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11 Things People With Mental Health Difficulties Want You To Know

By Somdutta Mazumder

Updated - Nov. 11, 2021 11 min read

Mental health. Two seemingly basic words, that also fall prey to the most misinterpretations. According to a 2019 report by the WHO, all of us live in a country wherein 7.5% of the total population, experiences some form of mental health difficulties. And that's a number we arrived at before a pandemic swept across the world. But for a disturbingly large segment of people, the classification is simple and the fuss unnecessary. There's sane, and then there's insane. When the two begin to overlap, discomfort follows, as does disregard. It's just not valid, it just doesn't happen. You can either be normal, or abnormal, the rest is just in your head. 


It's almost like for us to believe in a mental health problem, there has to be a certain intensity associated. Flailing arms, talking to shadow people, or switching personalities, these are some of the commonly accepted symptoms of mental health disturbance. But inward feelings, like anxiety, melancholy or misery even, are not heavy enough to warrant help. More so in the case of men, talking about negative emotions like sadness is a sign of not being "man enough". And for women, it's always the hormones to blame. 



We refuse to initiate dialogues because to have a conversation about something, there has to be a certain amount of belief in the topic. So it's all hush and shush and "snap out of it", till the truth bubbles up harshly the way it did yesterday. In the wake of Sushant Singh Rajput's suicide, India was left shell-shocked. Condolences poured in from every direction, along with reflections about what could've been done differently. But why is it, that it takes something truly tragic like a loss of life, for us to take notice of something that's been there all along? Putting discussions about mental health difficulties on the back burner, is no longer a viable option. And to be honest, it never really was. Mental health problems are real and people suffer tremendously. And one's refusal to accept that won't discard the victim's disorder, it just isolates them in their suffering. 


Image Courtesy: Pexels 


You can help, you just have to want to. To help you gain clarity on something that remains largely muddled, here are 11 important things people with mental health difficulties want you to know. 


1. Mental health problems are not made up for attention

One of the most enduring beliefs related to people suffering from mental health problems, is that they're making all of it up. Mostly because they want to be the centre of attention, or because they're looking to attract sympathy. This assumption can not only negate one's very difficult experiences with depression, anxiety or other mental health problems, but is also a form of victim-blaming.


Contrary to this belief, most mental health patients tend to dislike attention, which is why a lot of them put on a facade, or isolate themselves. Self-harm or mutilation is also commonly looked at as a tactic to seek recognition. And this is a belief I just can't wrap my head around. Why would anybody resort to making themselves bleed, for someone else's benefit!? Most people with self-harm scars try their best to hide those. I for one, know a person who hates the season of summer, because her scars are more on display, and thus vulnerable to attracting insensitive questions. And while we are on this topic, please stop asking people about their scars. Even if you're just curious and not mocking, let them feel comfortable enough to bring it up on their own. If you're concerned about fresh scars, find other ways to express it. A simple "how are you doing" and "I really care for you" works better than you'd imagine. 


2. Medical care & diagnosis is just as important as in physical illnesses 

If someone is feeling anxious, telling them to "just calm down" is about as effective as telling a cancer patient to "just pretend it's not there".


Contrary to popular assumption, mental health patients would never CHOOSE to feel the way they do, and a major part of the kind of distress that comes with the territory of mental health disorders, is the inability to control overwhelming thoughts and feelings. Oftentimes, the person experiencing disturbing thoughts, urges and emotions, has no idea why it's happening, and when someone close to them brushes those symptoms aside, all it does is make them feel more frustrated and alone in their problems.


Instead, if someone close to you is experiencing these difficulties, encourage them to get help. When it comes to mental health, it's quite simple. If it hurts, it's a problem, and the person requires professional intervention. Don't decide that your friend's depression is just not that serious, let a psychiatrist be the judge. Mental health symptoms when left unattended, often tend to spiral out and pave the way for drastic steps as escape strategies. 


3. Please don't compare trauma, it's not a competition 

For the love of God, if someone is suffering from depression, telling them a lot of people have it worse, is NOT helpful. African children might be starving, people might have lost their parents, and it's all very sad. But none of that is going to minimise someone's mental health difficulties.


If anything, it just adds to their guilt and worsens their negative feelings about themselves. Trauma, cannot be compared. Mostly because the experience of trauma, is highly subjective. What might seem relatively normal to you, is not for someone else with a personality, past or life history very different from yours. And if that's difficult to grasp, just think of it this way, whether it's 4 feet deep water, or 7 feet, the person is still drowning. 


4. Not all cases of the same disorder are the Same 

Even within a relatively known mental health disorder like Depression, patient experiences differ drastically. For some, it's the feeling of hopelessness, anguish and the inability to stop crying. For some others, it's total indifference, a complete sense of apathy towards life. 


Image Courtesy: Pexels 


And for others, it's the inability to leave their bed for days at a time or get themselves to take a shower. Even those who've suffered from a mental health disorder themselves, often fail to understand how it's like for someone else. Symptoms vary across people, a person with Major Depressive Disorder may get insomnia, and another person with MDD might sleep for 12 hours a day. The only person who will be able to describe their mental health difficulties is the person experiencing them. So, just ask. 


5. Not everybody with mental health problems is on medication 

Mental health is a massive area, with a large number of classifications and sub-categories. There's an entire manual dedicated to mental health disorders called the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM) which is updated every so often by the Americal Psychiatric Association. So naturally, just like you wouldn't manage all physical illnesses with the same mode of treatment, there's no one-size-fits-all cure to mental health disorders.


Some ailments like serious mood disorders can be treated partly with medication like anti-depressants or anti-anxiety medicines, while others like personality disorders require intensive therapy. Also, DO NOT ask for your friend's anti-depressants as "recreational drugs". They're not entertainment, they're someone's thin line between functioning like a normal person and curling up on the floor crying all day. A little empathy never hurt anybody. 


6. Mental health patients want to get better & they're NOT lazy 

Trust me when I say this, just like you wish for your close one with a mental health problem to get better, they want the same for themself equally, if not more. No one enjoys waking up and feeling hopeless every day, nobody on this planet would willfully choose to not be able to function as a result of overwhelming feelings.


Depression, anxiety and other mental health disturbances feel like a constant battle with your own brain, and it's a very exhausting experience. Especially when it's so difficult to put into words how unsettled you feel and why you feel that way, sometimes it's easier to just not face the world. It's not because they're feeling lazy, it's because they're tired of putting on a "normal" face all the time. And just like you can't "walk off a high fever", you can't shake off your mental health symptoms either.  


7. Mental health difficulties are not Signs Of Emotional Weakness 

I once had a person argue with me for over 30 minutes, about how depression, is just natural selection rooting out the emotionally weak. Yeah, suffice it to say, I don't talk to him anymore. If anything, I honestly feel it's a sign of emotional strength, to be able to recognise psychological disturbances and get the help you need. Too many of us, especially the male part of the population, tend to push down negative feelings and pretend it's all hunky-dory. When you suffer from mental illness, you fight every single day, to live the kind of life you deserve to live. From which angle, does that sound weak?! It's quite the opposite don't you think? It's constantly fighting for your survival, and if that doesn't take strength, I don't know what does. 


8. High functioning patients exist more than you'd think 

More often than not, we feel shocked when we realise someone is diagnosed with a mental health disorder because they just "look so normal!". Did you think clinical anxiety makes people grow horns? Or get a tail overnight? Of course, they look normal. That's exactly what they're aiming for. In fact, while for some people, mental health disorders can be very evidently debilitating with a clear difference in how they behave, there are high-functioning patients as well. 


Image Courtesy: Pexels 


This means, that a person could be suffering from Major Depression, but can still continue to laugh at jokes, attend work, meet deadlines and basically match every other parameter for "normal functioning". Does the name Robin Williams ring a bell? 


9. Mental health disorders are not adjectives 

No, you're not "super OCD". You're just organised. You don't have ADD, you just like to procrastinate. And no, you don't want to "kill yourself", you're just having a bad day. Most disorders under the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders, can only be diagnosed after an individual has experienced the symptoms on more days than not, for a period of 6 months.


So, please, stop using mental health disorders as adjectives for describing inconveniences. Having a mental health concern like OCD is not quirky. It's a serious ailment that affects you gravely and causes distress. Don't trivialise mental health disorders any more you would a physical illness. 


10. Just like physical illnesses, a person is a lot more than what they suffer from

Labels, hurt. And sometimes, labels also cause people to act more in conjunction with what that label dictates. A person is not depressed, they're suffering from depression. It's a part of their identity, but not their entire self. Just like you would never describe someone you love, only in terms of their experience with cancer, don't describe someone as a representation of what mental health problems they suffer from.


And while we are on this subject, please don't call someone "crazy" or "psycho", simply because they're acting in a way you don't understand. 


11. You don't need to give advice, just listening help 

As much as we'd like to, we can't help someone we care about suffering from mental health disturbances, the same way a professional can. You wouldn't treat your friend's broken arm with a motivating talk, would you? I mean sure, you can try to cheer them up, but it's still proper medical treatment that determines their healing.


The same goes for any mental health disorder. More often than not, when someone undergoing mental health disturbances reaches out to you, they're looking for a sympathetic ear, and not life-transforming advice. You don't need to find solutions for them, but you can assert that you will be with them while they try to solve their problems. At the end of the day, social support is absolutely crucial for anybody troubled by mental health concerns. Another thing that usually helps is, asking the person if they want to rant or they want suggestions. A simple question, can make things better for both the person seeking support and the one willing to extend it. 


Reassure, listen, empathise and encourage to get help. And if someone looks off, take two minutes out of your day to ask if they're feeling okay. Sometimes, it may end up saving a life. 




Q. What are the five signs of mental illness?

A. 5 signs of mental illness are:

  • Excessive paranoia, worry, or anxiety
  • Long-lasting sadness or irritability
  • Extreme changes in moods
  • Social withdrawal
  • Dramatic changes in eating or sleeping patterns


Q. How can I improve my mental health?

A. Always get professional help and follow the medication, if any. Talk about your feelings, eat right, keep active and ask for help. 


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