Mental Illness and Social Connection

One of the most important things that can help someone cope with a mental illness is social connection. Without love and care from others, I wouldn’t be here today.

We are all human beings. We each have different interests and different challenges, but these differences don’t need to separate us from one another. Some people like sci-fi, others like classical music and art. Some people struggle with diabetes, others have cancer. And some, like me, have mental illnesses. The ways we each are different do not have to keep us from embracing one another, loving one another, and spending time with one another.

Some people find mental illnesses confusing or scary. Other people don’t believe they exist, they incorrectly think that the person suffering is just weak. The truth is that mental illnesses are real illnesses that affects 1 in 4 adults each year. Because of the lack of understanding about these illnesses, people usually don’t talk about them and a person with a mental illness usually feels really isolated and alone.

I remember how I felt when I was a teenager suffering from OCD, PTSD and depression. I felt different from everyone else. I felt like less than human because of the symptoms I was dealing with. Consequently, I isolated myself from the “regular human beings”. And of course, being isolated just increased my sense of not belonging, of not being human, and my depression.

What has helped me the most in my efforts to learn to manage my illnesses and live a happy and successful life is having friends who see me, not my mental illness. They invite me to the park, to watch a movie at their house, to get ice cream. They make me feel like someone who is wanted. And when you feel like a wanted, cherished human being, you feel the strength to keep trying.

You don’t need to understand mental illness in order to be kind and loving to a person suffering. Just look at the person, not the behaviors, thoughts or feelings that the illness causes. They are a real person, just like you. And each person is valuable, lovable, and worthwhile. Each human being just wants to be cared about. You can make such a huge difference by just caring about others and acting to show that care.

I also think it can be so helpful when those with mental illnesses are willing to be brave and talk about their struggles. Recently, I met my first other person with a mental illness. At least the first one who has disclosed their illness to me. This friend is totally open about her struggles, which has helped me to open up about mine. The ability to talk freely with another person who “gets it” has been one of the best things that has ever happened to me. Because of her, I have felt more human. I have felt less alone. And I have felt more able to share my about my mental illness with others. They joy that comes from helping others with similar struggles is one of the most rewarding experiences I have ever had.

Its not always easy to disclose an illness, especially one that might be misunderstood, but there is so much good we can do when we talk about it. We can help other non-sufferers see that people with mental illnesses are just regular people with different trials than they have. And we can help other sufferers see that they are not alone and that despite the difficulties mental illnesses can cause, success and happiness in life is possible.

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