On Being (Mentally) Well

tl;dr – 1 in 4 people suffer from a mental disorder. If you feel depressed, anxious, or otherwise unhappy for more than a few days, please reach out to a friend, a family member, or a professional. If you feel alone or isolated, know that you are very much in good company with almost 60 million others (in the US alone). You might be surprised to know that many of your friends are (or have been) in therapy or use medication to help with their mental health. Regardless, educate yourself about mental health and make it known to your friends and family that seeking help is a sign of strength and that you are there for them. Please reach out today.

The past few weeks have been a sad and frustrating reminder of the painful toll depression and other mental disorders take. Right before New Year’s, our bay area community lost Conor Fahey-Latrope, a talented C++ developer. A few days later, Luke Arduini, a prominent node.js developer went missing. Sadly, they were not the only ones.

We still live in a society where mental illness is treated differently from all other kinds of illnesses. Where seeking psychological help is an embarrassment, a stigma. Where the majority of people believe that mental issues come in two flavors: “crazy” and “get over it”. Where painful disorders like ADHD, OCD, and depression are mocked or used casually without empathy to those who actually suffer from them.

If “crazy” is the word we use to label mental illness then we are all crazy. Literally. I have yet to meet someone who could not benefit from some form of mental health advice. It is a very wide spectrum from talking problems out with friends, to seeing a therapist, to using medication.

Being able to cope with your disorders without professional help is a gift, not a bragging right and it doesn’t make you superior in any way. The same way that seeking help or using medication is not a sign of weakness – not even a tiny bit. And while recent discussions about over medication and over diagnosis of mental disorders have their place, they must be carefully balanced not to create the false and damaging impressions that seeking help is only for those who are “really crazy”.

It is not an accomplishment to struggle through life without help. It is stupid. Trying to deal with depression on your own is as smart as trying to cure cancer by taking a walk.

When I share my personal experience about going to therapy when I came out and didn’t know how to deal with things, people sometimes comment that it’s brave of me to share. That’s bullshit. There is nothing brave about it – the same way there is nothing brave about discussing going to the dentist. I consider sharing and talking about my experience and the experience of people close to me as a responsibility. There is nothing more helpful knowing that you are not alone.

Over the past decade I have shared my life with many people dealing with pretty much every mental issue. My husband lives with depression. My roommate suffered from anxiety. A co-worker had mysophobia. A manager had type one bipolar disorder. These are just anecdotes.

If you think you might suffer from depression or other illnesses and think you are alone or the exception, consider this (from the National Institute of Mental Health):

Mental disorders are common in the United States and internationally. An estimated 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and older — about one in four adults — suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year. When applied to the 2004 U.S. Census residential population estimate for ages 18 and older, this figure translates to 57.7 million people. Even though mental disorders are widespread in the population, the main burden of illness is concentrated in a much smaller proportion — about 6 percent, or 1 in 17 — who suffer from a serious mental illness.

Go ahead – read it again. 57.7 million people in the United States suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder in a given year! If you are in a room with 4 people, one of you is probably suffering from it right now. Think about it – 1 in 4 means that every family has at least one member with a mental disorder. And 1 in 17 suffer from a serious illness – those are some pretty high odds.

The most powerful thing you can do to help yourself and others is to talk about it. To share your experience. To treat mental illness like every other boring, conventional, and very much treatable illness.

Please educate yourself, learn about the signs so you can identify them in yourself and in others. This video is a fantastic place to start:

If you think someone you know might be suffering, please reach out today, send a note, or find a way to let them know you are there for them.

Be well.