They Said I Should Lie

It’s common for someone with a mental illness to feel ashamed. There’s absolutely no need to feel ashamed, and this is something I fight against on a daily basis – in my ‘real life’ or through writing – but sometimes it can’t be helped. I think it’s our job as fellow sufferers (and, you know, fellow human beings) to try and lessen that feeling of shame. We need to show people that having a mental illness is valid, and real, and okay.

It can be difficult, however, when a mental health professional doesn’t feel the same way.

Don’t get me wrong, I’ve encountered some amazing people during my mental health journey. I can’t deny, though, that not everyone I’ve met along the way has been all that helpful.

The one that will always stand out for me is a professional I encountered during my mental health struggles in secondary school. Overall, this person was incredibly kind, but there is one situation that always comes to mind where I was left feeling shamed.

Long story short, this person encouraged me to lie about my absence from school. They said I should tell people that I have been having stomach problems, and that’s why I haven’t been able to get to school. Apparently, people wouldn’t react well to me being mentally ill, so I needed to tell everyone I had to be in close proximity to a toilet.

Now I’m pretty sure this person didn’t personally believe that there was anything for me to ashamed of, so why did they encourage me to lie? Maybe they thought it would be easier for me? Maybe they thought the other kids at school wouldn’t accept a mentally ill classmate? I’ll never know. But someone in that role encouraging a teenager to hide their mental illness from the world is just contributing to the stigma that surrounds mental health, and it needs to stop.

I chose not to lie, by the way, and my friends were supportive and loving and I’m incredibly grateful for them. Anyone who wasn’t that way isn’t part of my life anymore, and I’m better for it!

What If Mental Illness Could Be Seen?

I used to feel embarrassed whenever I had to address my mental illness. I hid it from my friends until it became unavoidable and I had no choice but to tell them; constant days off school and meetings with teachers started to look suspicious. They were supportive – as supportive as people with no prior experience of mental health conditions can be – and, for the most part, didn’t treat me any differently.

Some people, however, failed to offer me any compassion or understanding.

I’ve encountered people who don’t see mental illness as important – or real. Depression isn’t depression, just sadness. You just need to cheer up. What have you got to be depressed about, anyway? Anxious? Everyone gets anxious. Relax. Pull yourself together.

I’ve encountered people who suddenly thought I was crazy. They would walk on eggshells around me, scared to say the wrong thing in case it triggered a mental breakdown. They would tense at the mere mention of anxiety, searching the room for the nearest exit.

I’ve encountered people – and these are the worst – that thought me pathetic for having panic attacks. They reinforced the stigma around mental illness and validated all the hateful thoughts I had towards myself.

If mental illness could be seen, would people treat it with more respect? If my depression was as visible as a cast on a broken leg, would people still tell me to pull myself together? If those things don’t work on physical conditions, why would they work on mental ones? You’ve got a broken leg? Just put some weight on it and you’ll be fine! Pull yourself together. What do you mean you can’t walk? Pathetic.

Don’t treat me as though I’m weak or fragile, just because I have a mental illness. Be there for me, be supportive, but don’t walk on eggshells. Please don’t judge me because I am experiencing something you don’t understand. Trust me, I judge myself enough. Try to be kind, or simply offer a smile. Your actions matter. Mental illness isn’t contagious, and you won’t catch anxiety just because your friend has it. Give me the space I need but be there for me when I’m ready to close the gap. Don’t offer me simple remedies such as ‘cheer up’ or ‘stop worrying’. Depression isn’t a choice. Anxiety isn’t a choice. Try not to ask for a reason why, because to be completely honest, I don’t know the reason why myself.