Many people are scared to speak up about their mental illness. Perhaps it’s because they haven’t processed the fact that they have a mental health issue — but often it’s because they’re scared of the reaction.
I remember years ago, when I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, experiencing worries about telling people that I had been diagnosed. I was worried that I wouldn’t be believed, and I was worried that people would just tell me to “get over it”.
I was also worried that if people didn’t believe me, it meant I was overreacting. That I wasn’t really mentally ill. That I must just be attention-seeking.
I eventually did start speaking out a few months after my diagnosis. First, I told my close family and friends. Some were supportive, some didn’t understand, and some gave me mundane advice about going for walks, without recognising that bipolar disorder is a complex mood disorder that requires more than fresh air.
Thanks to the support I did receive, I started to feel brave enough to write about my mental illness, firstly on Metro.co.uk as that’s where I was working at the time; and secondly on social media.
As I spoke out more and more, more people came to me to talk about their own diagnoses, and how it had been affecting them. They told me I was ‘brave’ to be speaking out, because they didn’t feel they were able to do so. I tried to tell these people that it was okay to talk about mental illness. That it was okay to have a mental illness. That they didn’t need the validation of others to recognise that they have a mental health issue.
And this is true — you don’t need the validation of others. No matter how scary it seems to talk about what’s going on, the validation of others doesn’t make a difference to your diagnosis. And the same goes for those who are yet to be diagnosed (which is a common issue today, especially with the pandemic having delayed waiting lists for mental health services even more so).
No matter how hard it seems when people don’t understand, it doesn’t take away from how you’re feeling. Nobody can tell you how you should feel, or what you should be feeling.
The truth is, that there will always be people who don’t understand. There will always be people who suggest going for a walk, or eating differently, or drinking more water. There will always be people who tell you that there are others worse off. And this is sad. But please don’t let it make you feel like your mental illness — diagnosis or no diagnosis — doesn’t matter. Please don’t think it’s a reflection on you, or how you should feel about yourself or what you’ve experienced.
It’s always helpful to be believed because it means receiving support that is actually helpful. But the validation of others doesn’t change what you’re going through. It can make it easier to talk about what you’re going through, for sure — but don’t let the validation of others be a determining factor to seeking help.
And maybe it’s time to look at whether you really want people who don’t even want to learn or understand are worthy of a place in your life. Whether they’re helpful. Whether they make you feel better or worse. I’m not saying cut the people you love off completely, but perhaps you should look at whether these are the right people to be talking to — especially if they’re going to invalidate your struggles.
It’s okay not to speak out about what you’re going through; there’s absolutely no pressure. But I want you to know that there is a whole community of support out there. People who understand what you’re going through. People who are going through it themselves.
You can find these people through support groups both in-person and online (for instance, there is a ton of support out there on Facebook groups — for certain illnesses and for mental health as a whole). And there’s a huge community of people with mental illness, speaking out about mental illness, or being allies to those with mental illness, on Twitter.
If you don’t know where to turn (besides your GP, or mental health professional), these communities can be super helpful in making you feel more accepted, and in knowing it’s okay — both to live with a mental illness and to talk about mental health issues.
Opening up can be very scary, and know that it takes a great strength. But when you have a community around you that understands, it becomes easier. So seek that out rather than frustrating yourself educating those who don’t want to be educated.
When you’ve just been diagnosed with a mental illness — or even if you’ve been diagnosed for a long time, or aren’t diagnosed at all but know that you do have a mental illness — the number one thing you need is support. And communities who understand can give you that daily.
Please, please remember that people who don’t understand, simply aren’t educated enough on the subject. Please don’t let it define you. Please don’t let it make you think that because somebody doesn’t believe you, or won’t listen, that your experiences are valid.
With or without the validation of others, your feelings and experiences and illnesses are valid. You are valid. And you are worthy of love, respect, and understanding. Maybe it’s time to focus on the people who give you that — and not on the people who don’t.