Oprah’s recent interview with Meghan Markle sparked some of the healthiest and most supportive conversations about mental health… along with shaming memes and commentary.
The fact that someone who is in a privileged position could experience mental suffering was met with disbelief and ridiculed. This begs the question: is one’s mental distress more legitimate than another’s?
Are there people who “shouldn’t” feel like they want to kill themselves, because their external circumstances provide them with some sort of mental wellbeing threshold?
Are some experiences of mental suffering less “worthy” than others?
As a mental wellness expert, I want to say this is a very dangerous and very slippery slope. As a society, we have only just begun opening up about mental illness. We have only relatively recently started seeing it as something real and as a valid conversation to be had.
However, one of the main reasons why so many people are driven to suicide despite their incredible talent, opportunity, circumstances and the many loved ones surrounding them is precisely because we, as a society, are still rationalizing and judging mental suffering.
There is still a flawed understanding of emotional and mental pain as experiences that are only valid if they are brought about by external circumstances or events that the global consensus would deem appropriate. And this is where, as a society, we still fail to support those who need it most.
So, where do we go from here? I suggest a key step for each and every one of us is to understand the true function of emotions. This means allowing them to take their rightful place among the various signals that are being fed back to us by our body, our mind and our spirit, and which are helpful indications of whether everything is on the right track or whether something is amiss.
Emotions are not right or wrong depending on circumstances, just like having a tummy ache is not right or wrong, regardless of whether one just had a meal at a 5-star restaurant.
No one would suggest that you are weak, delusional, lying, or wrong to have a tummy ache… since you just had an extraordinary meal from a Michelin Star chef. That is because we understand physical sensations as signals that are gently guiding us towards the right path for our body.
We need to consider the possibility that emotions are doing exactly the same thing, and that any judgment is irrelevant. The question isn’t “is this emotion valid”; the true question is: what is the real root cause of that emotion? When we start looking at emotional suffering as a signal, then we become able to help ourselves and others find its true cause and make the necessary changes to move past it.