May is Mental Health Awareness Month and this is a cause that is very near and dear to my heart. One in five people in the US battle some form of mental health issues. 60 million people in the US live with some form of mental illness. It pisses me off so much how there is such a stigma surrounding those who battle mental illnesses. Those who have mental health issues could be battling ADHD, anxiety, autism, bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, depression, dissociative disorder, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder or schizophrenia. Guess what… those 60 million people are fucking strong; they are warriors. Every day they wake up and fight a battle that those whom society deems “normal” are lucky enough to never know.

Personally I battle with anxiety and in the past have struggled with depression and eating disorders. I’m extremely proud to stand up and say that I overcame the latter I struggled with in my late teens and early twenties. The fact that I am here today… strong, ambitious, driven and loving life shows how much of a warrior I am. In my previous blog posts Happy and My Journey With Anxiety, I’ve shared my ongoing battle with anxiety and how I know I’m a strong individual because every day is fight for happiness. Yes, I don't win everyday and like most people I have my ups and downs. But everyday, I wake up and fight the monsters within. The monsters telling me that I am not good enough. The monsters telling me today isn't worth getting out of bed. The monsters who try and convince me that there is no light at the end of the tunnel. For a good half hour every morning, this is my battle. But eventually I shut those inner monsters down. I pull the covers off and get up and get on with my day. The mornings when I get up and out of bed, I've won my first battle of the day. 

Nothing makes me more upset than when people use mental health disorders to put others down. I’m not perfect and I’m sure I’m just as guilty of doing or saying something similar but it needs to stop. Saying someone is being “bi-polar” or “schizo” should never be a phrase used to put another down. Heck, we should just stop putting each other down. Again, I know I’m definitely guilty of engaging in negative conversations about others but as I get older I’m learning that excusing myself and just ignoring the conversation as a whole is the best approach.  

See the person, not their illness. When someone is depressed let them feel the way they feel, never tell someone how they should feel or that they should just get over it. What gives you the right to tell another person how they should control their emotions. You are not them; you don’t know what’s going through their brain. All you should be doing is supporting them, listening to them and simply being there for them.

Refinery29 recently posted an image on their Facebook page that I could not have agreed with more. When someone with anxiety is suffering from a panic attack there are things you should NEVER say.

image via Refinery29

image via Refinery29

Even though you may have the best intentions, asking them what’s wrong is a bad idea. Personally, when I’m having a panic attack, it’s so hard to explain what I'm feeling in that moment because I'm being overloaded with emotions. It could be multiple factors and explaining it could cause more upset. Letting the person know you are there to support them is the best approach. If I think back to my most recent panic attack, my girlfriends Michelle, Kaisa and Amanda were with me. They let me do my thing, they didn’t say anything, they just sat with me, hugged me, brought me water and tissues. They didn’t try and get me to divulge, their presence was the only thing I needed.

The second thing… never ever tell someone having a panic attack to calm down. Even when they’re not having a panic attack you should never tell them to calm down. This is something one of my exes used to do and it would honestly piss me the fuck off. Those two words so easily discount however you’re feeling in that moment. There is no right or wrong way to feel. People are entitled to their own emotions and telling someone to calm down is so fucking rude. If anything, tell them that you’ll give them some time and space. This is honestly what always works for me. I’m not a hash it out then and there, type of person. I hate talking about my emotions, especially when I’m not ready to. I need that half hour to an hour to decompress and figure out how I’m feeling on my own, without feeling judged or as if I did something wrong.

Just remember, one in five people in the US suffer from some form of mental illness. I think it’s one in four in the UK. More people than you think are in an on-going battle to “feel normal”, whatever the fuck that means. Take some time and take the pledge. Pledge to be stigma free, pledge to support, pledge to see the person for who they are and not by their illness. Your empathy and your compassion is the only way we’ll get rid of the stigma surrounding mental illness.

More information regarding mental illness can be found on the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) website.