This isn’t usually what I use this blog for. I try to keep things light-hearted and pop-cultural (although I know many would disagree that media representation of women is a fun topic to talk about). But this one is going to be kind of dark. It’s okay, I’ll try to throw in some jokes and tie it in to some media and pop culture things.
This is something I don’t talk about frequently, at least not outside of those I’m close to. For the last 2 years, I’ve suffered from clinical depression and anxiety. I won’t go into detail here; I’m going to assume you’re all smart enough to know what that means. Anyone who has been through similar issues understands the problems with access to mental health care. It’s a pretty common cultural phenomenon that there’s a deep stigma against mental illness. People expect you to just “get over it”, something they would likely never dream of saying to someone with, say, diabetes or even the flu. There’s this misconception that an illness of the brain is different from or less legitimate than illnesses of any other body part. There’s this mind-body problem that has been debated basically forever and I don’t think there’s going to be any kind of consensus any time soon. So take everything I say with a grain of salt, because all of this is based solely on my own opinions and experiences.
In my opinion, there’s a cultural bias (at least here in America in the 21st century) towards thinking that mind and body are separate entities. In more neo-hippie circles, this is giving way to thought that they’re one and the same, but the former is still more prevalent in, for example, my parents’ generation. The common expression is that if you simply exert your will or your brainpower, you can force your body to do what you want. I don’t know what side of this debate I come down on, and frankly it’s not something I find enjoyable to spend my free time on. But I do know that just wanting something, like wanting your body to change or wanting your mind to be healthy is not enough. Believe me, I’ve tried.
Why is this relevant? I think it’s because there’s this perception that people who are depressed or struggling with other mental health problems simply aren’t trying hard enough or don’t want badly enough to be “sane”. Mentally healthy people have difficulty imagining what it’s like when your own brain is fighting you (and I’m not saying this in a blaming or faulting way; I spent most of middle school failing to help my best friend with her own mental health struggles because I just didn’t understand). It’s blatantly obvious when a story or plotline about depression or anxiety is written by someone who’s never experienced it. Hallmarks include: learning to just “think positively”, having one revelation in a therapy session and then being “cured”, all therapists being unhelpful and dismissive, etc. And I know I’ve made this point in nearly every post, I’m absolutely beating a dead horse here, but portrayals of things in media influence our perceptions of them in real life. Every time some character with depression is cured by the healing power of positive thinking, someone in the real world thinks that’s how it works, and fails to understand how their friend can struggle with something so simple.
I know this doesn’t sound like a big deal to you, maybe. But all of these small things add up to this massive stigma against getting help for these problems. And every time I hear one of my friends dismiss the idea of getting therapy, I get so upset because I know from experience what type of feelings they’re having and how much can be done to alleviate those feelings. My life is still in a pretty fucked up place, not gonna lie, but it improved drastically when I started regularly seeing a therapist, and even more so when I started taking antidepressants. Yeah, I know, some “naturalist” or whatever just started an internal rant about the evils of synthetic chemicals and drugs and blah blah blah. I literally could not care less. If one more person tells me that trying yoga or drinking green tea will “fix me”, I’ll strangle them.
I’m going to keep this post short, because this is something that’s still incredibly draining for me to talk about. Just promise me that if any of your friends or family opens up to you about their experiences in this area, please just listen to and support them. Because our cultural institutions sure won’t be giving them the help they need.