Remember that time last summer that I declared that I was done blogging about social media and was pivoting to writing about mental health? Or how almost exactly a year ago I wrote about mental health stigma and how it seems to be much worse for older people than younger ones? And then I proceed to pretty much not write about mental health at all?
Probably not, since nobody really reads blogs anymore. Since it’s Mental Health Awareness Month, I thought I’d revisit the topic.
So why didn’t I keep blogging about mental health issues? Maybe it’s because I’ve started journaling instead of blogging and have poured more energy into that. Maybe it’s because working and dealing with life while also navigating the fun ups and downs of living with mental health issues means that you sometimes–actually, a decent number of times–have great ideas and plans and then just either run out of steam or can’t focus or second guess yourself or figure why bother with anything anyway. Maybe it’s just because it’s a lot easier to blog about social media than emotionally-charged topics. Or maybe because one of the crappiest parts of living with mental illness means making trade-offs like taking meds that pretty much sap your desire/ability to create but enable you to function. Or a combination of all of the above.
Those things aside, though, I can’t help but feel like the fact that I stopped writing about mental illness is exactly why I need to force myself to keep writing about it. Even as more and more celebrities and teens open up about their struggles with mental illness, there still seem to be very, very few older adults sharing their experiences. Teens talk openly about depression and anxiety and other mental health issues, and it’s downright hip to be a famous person with a mental illness. But regular people in their 30s, 40s, 50s and beyond? Mental illness still seems to be a dirty secret that nobody talks about, whether online, at the office or in social settings–or even just among friends.
Why don’t more older adults write or talk about their struggles with depression or anxiety or other mental health issues? (And, sidebar, why is it so hard to decide whether it’s better to go with the term “mental health issues” vs “mental illness”?) As far as the first question goes, it’s really a rhetorical question because I know why. It’s because, unlike today’s teens and young adults, we grew up during a time when admitting you were “crazy” was just not done. First of all, you were supposed to just get over it; second, you could lose your job, your friends and maybe even your kids if you let on that you were anything less than “fine.” So you just suffered in silence…and, as far as I can tell, you/we still do because the same rules we grew up with are either so engrained that we fear even testing the waters by speaking out when we’re not fine, or even if we yearn to join the young adult/celebrity chorus, our friends, families and coworkers are most likely much happier if we don’t. Or at least that’s been my experience.
So while headlines trumpet the importance of young people speaking out about their struggles with mental illness and praise teens for their advocacy, how many times in real life do you encounter older people talking openly about their experiences with the same? How many workplaces encourage employees to share their experiences coping with mental health struggles in brown bag lunches or wellness campaigns? How many potential employers would be like “awesome–this person has a mental illness–let’s hire them”…even though there are hundreds of universities that “not only welcome students with disabilities into their programs, but also cater to their needs through supportive staff, academic assistance programs, free shuttles and more.” Pretty much none that I’ve heard of…save Silicon Valley’s current interest in hiring people with autism.
Am I the lone almost 50 year-old person who feels like they live in a parallel universe where society dictates that if you’re a person over the age of 30 who has a mental illness you better keep quiet about it because it makes people uncomfortable and could cost you jobs, friends, etc…yet at the very same time we applaud the courage of teens, young adults and celebrities when they share their experiences with the exact same issues?
Don’t worry–I don’t expect anyone to actually comment…if the comment functionality is even working on this blog (yet another thing on my to-do list…fix blog comments). But know that if you’re struggling and thinking you’re alone, you’re not…and that every time you talk openly about your experiences, you’re giving someone else the courage to do the same.
And that goes triple if you’re old(er) and/or not a celebrity.