Written by Hannah Blum, author of The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love
It’s the topic we are afraid to talk about, but when it comes to the mental health conversation, it’s the number one thing we should be recognizing. We left one group of people out of the discussion, people with mental illness. The worst part is, we not only ignore them, but we also shame them, we doubt their diagnosis, and passively tell them it’s their fault for being sick.
The wellness movement is about promoting emotional wellness, physical wellness, emotional self-regulation, spiritual and holistic wellness. It has become the poster child for the “mental health conversation.” Sharing methods and practices such as meditation, yoga, holistic approaches to health, consciousness, ideas around self-healing, etc. Regardless of whether you live with mental illness or not, these practices are tremendously beneficial. However, the wellness conversation overshadows the discussion about people with mental illness.
I am a mental illness advocate who has actively been working in this space for eight years. My journey in advocacy started ten years ago after I was unjustifiably sedated, put into handcuffs, and involuntarily placed in a mental hospital where I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. I create art to create awareness based on the problems I have seen and faced myself and the people I have met.
This blog post is not about making people feel guilty. I know there are individuals in the wellness space that are working with the intent to improve people’s mental health. You are doing a great job. Many advocates are just unaware of the problem. Wellness is an essential part of the mental health conversation. I am, however, calling out the people that openly shame people with mental illness online, on social media, and in person. I refer to it as sugar-coated shame.
In this post I want to create awareness about the ways in which the wellness movement hurts people with mental illness, the problems that are present, and then offering how we come together to create change.
How The Wellness Movement Shames People With Mental Illness
“Mental Illness Is Not Real”
In the wellness space, people, including psychologists, produce content on social media that directly denies the existence of mental illness. Yesterday, I read an Instagram post by a psychologist who refers to mental illness as “so-called mental illness.” I hear it from people all the time about how I do not have bipolar, and if I do X, Y, and Z, I can heal myself. A couple months ago, a family friend who is a spiritual healer and wellness coach told me that she could “balance bipolar out of me.”
Even if it is not directly stated, “mental illness is not real,” it is passively implied. Spreading ideas such as “Happiness is a choice” or “depression is a lack of consciousness” can be damaging because for many of us, it’s not.
My question is, Where is the research that has scientifically proven that mental illness does not exist? Where is the in-depth research that says people with mental illness can cure themselves? If you make such a bold statement implying that mental illness is not real, you better back that up. Here is a post by a wellness “guru” who refers to mental illness as “simply messengers.” We will refer to this person as Dr. B.
When asked to back it up, Dr. B did not. You can see below, a commenter asks for more resources but no response. I would say that the lack of response had to do with the huge amount of comments if it were not for the fact that Dr. B responds to the comment below it.
Below is just one example of how a message like this increases feelings of shame.
I am not just singling out this influencer in the wellness community to be malicious, otherwise I would reveal who it is. I am trying to make a point.
In an article by VICE, this issue is directly addressed.
Marla Deibler, a cognitive-behavioral therapist and licensed psychologist who serves as the executive director of the Center for Emotional Health of Greater Philadelphia, said that these critiques can be dangerous, especially when the alternative presented is unscientific in nature.
Diebler went on to say, “Laypersons or the general population look to us as licensed professionals, as reliable guides. And it is our responsibility to provide the public with reliable, scientifically based information,” said Deibler. “I’m of the belief that if we don’t do that, we’re negligent. That’s irresponsible and unethical.”
I’ve been collecting and reading research since I started advocating. I keep links to these sources on a Google Doc that is now 100 pages long.
I want to back up what I am saying by sharing parts of an article, The Roots Of Mental Illness, that was published by the American Psychological Association, which is the leading scientific and professional organization representing psychology in the US.
“All mental processes are brain processes, and therefore all disorders of mental functioning are biological diseases…The brain is the organ of the mind. Where else could [mental illness] be if not in the brain?”-Eric Kandel, MD, who is a Nobel Prize laureate and professor of brain science at Columbia University.
“Certain disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder fit the biological model in a very clear-cut sense…In these diseases, structural and functional abnormalities are evident in imaging scans or during postmortem dissection.” –Richard McNally, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist at Harvard University.
We need to start asking more questions, because if you thought the mental health crisis was getting better, I hate to tell you that it’s only getting worse. We see this specifically with suicide because that’s what happens to people who don’t get treated properly for mental illness.
The Mental Health Crisis Is Getting Worse
In 2020, suicide is on the rise. It is both a health crisis and a social justice issue that is rarely discussed in the “mental health conversation.” Here are some things that are important to know:
-The U.S. suicide rate has jumped 35% over the past two decades. Health officials reported this on April 8, 2020.
-There are more deaths from suicide than from war and homicide together.
-Globally, one person dies by suicide every 40 seconds. Researchers believe that if the mental health crisis continues, it will be one person every 20 seconds.
Think about it. This means that in one day, 24 hours, 2,160 people die by suicide. By the end of the week, around 15,120 people died by suicide.
If it rises to every 20 seconds, it’s doubled. In one day, 4,320 people will die by suicide. By the end of the week, 30, 240 people will have died by suicide.
–One in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives.
-Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death among 15-29 year olds.
–The Treatment Advocacy Center reports that people with untreated mental illness are 16 times more likely to be killed during a police encounter than other civilians approached or stopped by law enforcement. The research from the study suggests that many of these police shootings could have been avoided.
–More than 50 percent of people with mental illness who were killed by police officers were shot in their own homes.
If you are going to talk about mental health, you need to be aware of what is going on in mental health. Unfortunately, there is more conversation around self-care tips than there is about suicide.
The “Pill Shaming” Problem
There are people in the wellness conversation, including psychologists, who shame people for taking medication. This is called “pill shaming.” This is what kept me from taking my medication for years, which only caused more problems.
Here is just one of many examples of a well known wellness influencer using her platform to “pill shame.” I’ve edited out her name and handle because I don’t want to shame her as she shames others. I will call her Dr. K.
This tweet was posted by Dr. K but deleted shortly after she received backlash. For someone who talks about standing by their truth, she hit that delete button real quick. #NopeSheDontGotThis
To the wellness advocates who are making genuine efforts to improve mental health, be aware of the people who are representing your community.
How We Come Together
The way we come together has everything to do with being inclusive, and this isn’t just solely about people with mental illness. Whether you live with mental illness or not, this benefits everyone who is struggling to cope with their internal pain.
We create an open space for people to speak of their pain first—to be mad, to be sad, to be anxious, and to voice it because they should and have the right to do so.
We take a step back and give people, especially our youth, the room to express their pain, and their trauma, without feeling the need to heal themselves.
We do more listening than lecturing. We get raw about our pain in the present, instead of speaking of it in the past. We let them scream, and we take on their pain, whether we understand or not.
If we can do this, we automatically invite people with mental illness into the conversation. We automatically create an inclusive environment where pain is pain, where you are not going to be judged if you take medication or you have been saved by meditation. It doesn’t matter.
We make it so people with mental illness are not afraid to speak up if something is wrong, and then we direct them to the proper resources.
If you recognize other people’s pain and respect it without trying to fix them, you become the hand that pulls them back from the edge.
When we give people a space to be present in the dark and accepted for it, we open a gateway for light to enter.
Invite People With Mental Illness Into The Conversation
Become curious. People with mental illness are some of the most incredible humans that the world is missing out on. It’s enlightening to meet and speak to people who live with bipolar, schizophrenia, depression or any mental illness.
They can teach you, but we are not curious enough. We don’t ask questions, we just preach. Aren’t you interested to know what it’s like living with mental illness?
There are so many incredible advocates online and on social media that can shed light on topics that will engage your audience in such a powerful way. Utilize social media to connect with these individuals. Introduce them to your audience through Instagram Live, Facebook Live, podcasts, blog posts, events, etc.
Curiosity is the vessel for knowledge. Get familiar with the unfamiliar.
The Act Of Being Seen Can Save A Person’s Life
As an advocate for mental illness and someone living with bipolar disorder, there are people I have met, stories I have heard, and things I have seen that will forever remain close to me. I want to share a few with you to hopefully give you an idea of the suffering I see in my community.
My 13-year-old roommate at the mental hospital who had the words “help me” carved into her body from her knees up to her neck. A mother screaming in tears, grabbing my leg, begging me for an answer as to why her child took her own life. A father who took his daughter off medication for bipolar disorder and four months later found her dead in the garage. Stories from people on the street whose untreated mental illness has caused them to wither away.
There are thousands of people who are looking for an answer as to why they feel so alone, asking why they are still in pain even though they are doing everything that people say will help. The worst part is, I struggle to answer why they are not being seen when they are right there in front of your eyes. On the streets, in your home, in your school, attending your seminar, at your job, and everywhere we turn.
I struggle to know that one of the biggest obstacles we are facing is the one that exists within our community—the people who are supposed to be with us and not against us. People with mental illness have gone from feeling shame for living with a condition to feeling ashamed because they cannot be cured of it.
Innocent people, beautiful souls, are being robbed of their chance to live a good life. This is not their fault; it’s our fault. They are not victims; they are unheard and untreated. It is our birthright to get the help we deserve, but we need people in the wellness space to meet us in the middle.
There will be a person who is silently screaming in the audience, who is begging for someone to tell them that they are not bad, they are not wrong; they are not a failure if meditation, yoga or coping skills does not work as it does for others. You have the opportunity to save their life simply by making them feel seen.
So let’s work together. Hand in hand, let’s take the pain that strives to break us apart and use it to bring us together.
No human should go through life, believing that just because they are different, they are invisible.
Wellness is we are all in this.
Thank you to all the mental health and wellness advocates who are working every day to create a movement that will change and save lives. I appreciate every single one of you.
If you would like more information about how to get involved please reach out to me and my team at firstname.lastname@example.org
Resources for you to get involved with mental illness advocacy
Check out, Best Mental Health Instagram Accounts To Follow, which includes mental illness advocates, wellness advocates and psychologists promoting mental health awareness
Also simply by searching the #mentalhealthawareness on Instagram will share more accounts and information
Organizations and campaigns
Read The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love
In her first book, The Truth About Broken: The Unfixed Version of Self-Love, Hannah Blum redefines what it means to be broken and helps others find their way to a different type of self-love, the unfixed version of it. Through a collection of stories that will never leave your mind, inspirational quotes and the lessons taken from her journey with mental illness, readers are sure to feel empowered after reading this book.