Mental Health Awareness Month is in full swing and it’s encouraging to see so many people speaking out about breaking the stigma of mental illness. It’s no secret people who struggle with mental illness often do so in silence or behind closed doors. Even though mental illness is something many people struggle with, assumptions and a general lack of awareness negatively influence the way our society treats them.
Kevin Love, power forward for the Cleveland Cavaliers, recently wrote an eloquent article about his experiences during and after a panic attack. He describes, in detail, his inner turmoil and his hesitance to tell anyone about it. While reading, it’s easy to empathize with this man, whose inclination is to be protective of his privacy. It’s not just that, though; as an athlete and a man, there are layers to the fears Mr. Love experienced as he thought of opening up about the panic attack. The interesting thing is, this article was not just about an athlete who’d experienced a panic attack. It was about a man — a human being — who had experienced loss and overwhelming expectations without help. Mr. Love wrote about his work with a therapist and the changes he noticed. Most importantly, he challenged the stigma of mental illness. I imagine his candor and courage made an impact on most who read (or will read) this article. His message — we all have pain that needs to get out — is one everyone needs to hear.
Many other athletes and actors are sharing their mental health journeys with the world. Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson also opened up about his battles with depression in a recent interview with The Express. Just think — a former wrestler and current superstar actor — talked about experiencing bouts of unexplainable, constant crying. He spoke of the pain in his past, especially around his mom’s suicide attempt that he stopped. With his massive stature and recognizable voice, Mr. Johnson challenges the notion that those who struggle with mental illness must do so in silence. I remember being in graduate school. Ironically, I was learning how to help others in their
mental health struggle, but I was suffering silently with the onset of what has become a pretty severe anxiety disorder. There are several people to this day that know nothing about it. Through the years, I’ve learned how to masterfully cover it up. Therapy has helped tremendously, but only when I’ve felt comfortable sharing the depths of the symptoms. When others are expecting you to have it all together it doesn’t seem fitting to say, “Oh yeah, I might need to delay the start of this presentation/class/discussion to avoid a panic attack.” I’ve stood in front of audiences talking about the importance of self-care while fighting off visible symptoms of my internal turmoil.
No human being should have to be silent about mental illness. No human being deserves to suffer alone because of fear of appearing weak. Lastly, there is not one human being on this planet who deserves to have their experiences with mental illness minimized or invalidated by others who do not care to understand.
Mental illness is just as real as physical illness.
In fact, our mental health is most vulnerable as we experience life’s bumps and bruises. Fighting the stigma is not just for those who suffer from mental illness, but also for everyone who could provide a supportive environment. Discussions about mental illness are not reserved for the aftermath of a mass shooting; it is not to be used as the “reason” for deviant behavior. It’s to be normalized and supported, by both those who struggle with it and those who do not. There’s freedom in being able to ask for help, opening up, and getting validated. Both Kevin Love and Dwayne Johnson expressed this freedom and encouraged countless people suffering in the shadows, including myself, to break their silence. If you, or someone you know, is suffering from mental illness (or just struggling in general), know there is real, effective help out there. Break the silence and experience the freedom you deserve.
Dr. Carla Smith, president and owner of Brownstone Consulting, LLC and Assistant Professor of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences in the Mercer University School of Medicine, is a leader in educating and training students, professionals, and the public about diversity and inclusion. She is a licensed clinical social worker and licensed marriage and family therapist with 11 years of experience as a clinician and consultant working with individuals, couples, families, communities, and organizations. Dr. Carla works to encourage and empower people, communities, and organizations to build quality relationships by developing cultural humility and fostering authentic dialogue.
For questions or inquiries: CarlaSmithPhD@gmail.com