Despite the progress we've made in reducing the stigma against mental illness, we still don't seem to understand that mental illnesses manifest in different ways, and are often invisible.
For example, a person who is experiencing depression won't always "look" depressed.
In a post to her Facebook page, blogger Whitney Fleming wrote that after an acquaintance had been hospitalized for severe depression, a mutual friend had texted her, "I wish I would have known she was depressed. I mean, she didn't look like it."
Though her friend surely meant well, the text inspired Fleming to post two photos of herself, one from when she was going through a depressive episode, and another from when she was being treated.
"Can you tell the difference?" she wrote. "There's a reason we call them 'invisible illnesses.'"
"Many people who face depression are also filled with shame," she wrote. "They do not share their feelings with anyone. They do not want to appear ungrateful for the life they lead or judged for their apathy. They do not know how to justify a sadness they themselves cannot explain."
As Fleming's post points out, many people who are suffering from depression can also still be high-functioning members of society. They go to work, hang out with their friends, show up for happy hour, and can appear happy to do so even if their illness is eating away at them. After Linkin Park singer Chester Bennington died by suicide in July, his wife Talinda Bennington tweeted a photo of him smiling, writing, "This was days b4 my husband took his own life. Suicidal thoughts were there, but you'd never know.
That's not to discount those whose symptoms of depression do manifest physically — that certainly happens as well. But even if your symptoms don't show up in a way that people can immediately see and understand, your illness is still very real and valid.
Fleming wrote that even those with depression may not always realize that they're ill, and we need to "realize that you will rarely 'see' that someone is depressed."
Still, she wrote, you can help people.
"Be kind to the mom who seems off or keeps canceling," she wrote. "Don't judge the woman who may dress differently or isn't as friendly as you think she should be. Offer help to the parent who seems overwhelmed. Check in with friends, even when you feel like you can't fit one more thing into your busy day."
Fleming tells Refinery29 that she wishes we talked about depression more often — after all, it's one of the most common mental illnesses.
"When I started talking about my experience, I had so many people contact me and say, 'I know what that feels like,'" she says. "We need to pick up the phone and make the call [to ask for help] so we can feel better and make sure that feeling ashamed isn't the reason that we don't seek help."
If you are experiencing depression and need support, please call the National Depressive/Manic-Depressive Association Hotline at 1-800-826-3632 or the Crisis Call Center’s 24-hour hotline at 1-775-784-8090.
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