Some say mental illness is just like any illness, and the more I learn about the subject, the more I agree. Yet while there is an abundance of information readily available about physical ailments, mental illness is still shrouded in mystery. Have you noticed that people don’t hesitate to share what they know about all kinds of bodily ailments, regardless of how personal or grotesque? Think The Doctors, for example. (The Doctors comes on at 1:00 p.m. MDT, so if I turn it on, it’s easy to control my lunch portions.)
The problem is that ignorance breeds fear. And when fear prevails, those with mental health challenges are ostracized and isolated. Most, no doubt, suffer in silence.
So, I’m wondering, if you are reading this blog post and you suffer from a mental illness, who can you go to talk about your condition?
Family? The two largest living generations are the Baby Boomers and the Millennials, and they are further apart in terms of core values and personality than any two generations in history. To a great extent, anxiety in Millennials is the product of relativism exacerbated by the trophy-kid, helicopter parenting mindset of the 80s and 90s. So unless there is someone else in your family who also suffers from anxiety and depression, odds are your parents don’t understand why you do.
From your Baby Boomer parents’ perspective, they gave you everything you needed growing up, and they have always been there for you. So what is your problem? From the Millennial’s perspective, your parents promised you the sky was the limit, but now you can barely pay your rent.
Managers? Companies are scrambling to figure out how to acquire and manage Millennial talent. One factor they are not prepared for is the rising levels of anxiety and other mental disorders.
“How safe is it in your company for a direct report — or another manager — to let it be known that he or she is on meds for depression and/or visits a therapist?” asks the author of a recent Harvard Business Review article, “High Pressure Jobs and Mental Illness.” I suspect most would respond, “not very safe.”
From a manager’s point of view, if you have a mental disorder, you might need off work more than other employees, or you might require additional support or supervision. From the Millennial’s point of view, employers do not have the same level of medical insurance and other resources available to people with mental illness as they do for people with physical conditions.
Co-Workers and Friends? Peers can listen, and they can share their own experiences with mental illness, but too often, it’s simply the blind leading the blind. Especially since the mental health field is still so young and professionals are far from agreeing on the best medications and therapies.
Church Leaders? Late last year, Ed Stetzer published a series on his blog, The Exchange, titled “The Church and Mental Illness.” While the research he conducted demonstrated that some pastors were taking measures to accommodate members of their congregation with mental illness (primarily by maintaining lists of experts to refer people to), churches have a long way to go. “Though I am excited about this positive movement,” says Stetzer, “we have miles and miles to go to come to a place of understanding and helpful engagement with people in our churches who struggle with mental illness.”
Why So Little Progress?
I truly believe that people want to show compassion for and help those who suffer from mental disorders, but they don’t understand … they don’t understand what their family members, co-workers, and church friends are going through, and they don’t know how to start the conversation. Further, many are afraid that by confronting the issue, they will somehow open themselves up to complications, dangers even, that they won’t be able to manage.
What’s the Answer?
Education and support are the key, but the first step is understanding.
- Who understands you?
- Who are you talking to about your mental health?
- What do you want people to understand about your struggle?