In August of 2018, I spent 21 days in one of Houston’s top psychiatric institutions. In July of the same year, I spent 10 days in a lesser known facility. I was not (and still am not) a physician, a mental health practitioner, or an employee of either of these places. If you have not yet guessed it, I was a patient. At nineteen years old, my world became too heavy to shoulder, and the weight of it nearly crushed me. Anxiety, delusions, and paranoia plagued my mind, so off to the psychiatric unit I went. Odd conversation starter, right?
The difficult conversations are often the ones worth having. In the nearly four years since my hospitalization, I have only met a handful of people who carry similar stories. While intellectually, I know that other psychiatric patients are most definitely among the population, I have very rarely heard their stories. Perhaps, the reason why is simple. Maybe, it all boils down to one word – shame.
Reflecting on my time in the psychiatric unit, there is not much that I confidently remember. This much I do. Community mattered to me then, and it matters now, too. At 22 years old, I equate staying silent about this experience to missing my opportunity to grab the hand of a total stranger with both empathy and compassion, as if to say, “I’ll walk this road with you. I’ve been here before, too. Walk through the dark with total confidence that there is hope and a purpose waiting for you.”
Unless you have ventured beyond the outside of these institutions and into the inner rooms, you may never know the stories that are held inside. The hurts, hang-ups, joys and triumphs – each one has a voice.
Do we hear them?
Will we listen?
We have been given a choice.
Candid conversations about mental health matter. In a society that encourages silence around life’s most challenging occurrences, we must be friends, neighbors, co-workers, and citizens who do not shy away from the “hard stuff.” Let us be willing to make space in the darkest moments for light to come pouring through. We may never know the impact of these conversations on the trajectory of another’s life. Your listening ear could help another to dispel fear, doubt, and shame. Will you lend it today?
Here are three reasons why mental health should be discussed more openly within society.
Mental health is just as important as physical health.
Several studies have indicated that there is a strong link between one’s mental health and his or her physical well-being. When one or the other is ignored, health conditions can quickly arise. When both are monitored, it is proven that people are both happier and healthier.
Vulnerability opens the door to community.
Another reason that mental health should be discussed openly is that when we are honest about how well we are doing, others can come alongside us and assist us on the journey to well-being. Vulnerability often creates and deepens a sense of community.
Fear does not deserve the final say.
Lastly, it is imperative that you and I discuss mental health struggles openly because we cannot heal what remains in the dark. Fear beckons us to stay hidden whereas the love and empathy of another calls us out of the darkness and into healing. Fear does not get the last word.
I want to leave you with a call to action, a necessary challenge worth embracing. Find a friend and ask what challenges he or she is facing. Then, listen attentively. You may be surprised to find that we are all more alike than different. When struggle comes, get candid. Have hard conversations.
Mental health matters. Let’s talk about it.