Last Thursday The Daily Show with Jon Stewart had guest Bob Woodruff, American journalist and founder of the Bob Woodruff Foundation. This foundation focuses on providing support to American war veterans to help them “heal the physical and psychological wounds of war.” Woodruff was there to speak about an upcoming benefit called Stand Up for Heroes and about some of the struggles former soldiers deal with when back in the United States. Here’s what got my attention: One of the common issues amongst war veterans is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). There is still a stigma about PTSD; especially amongst employers who would hire these individuals, simply because they do not know “what can happen” or how this people would behave.
These guys have experienced the horrors of war and bear psychological scars from it and still employers seem to label these people unreliable or unstable? Geez, what hope is there for a woman whose hormones go all out of balance after having a child and has to deal with the sometimes crippling effects of depression and other anxiety disorders?
This issue has been bothering me a lot because I’m there. I was diagnosed with postpartum depression 1 year and a half ago. I started treatment, kept working and hoped for the best. But the best didn’t come. 6 months ago, my brain said, “you can’t handle this sh*t anymore. I’m on strike until you do something about it!” And so I graduated from postpartum depression to a severe depression. That sucked. Because not only do you have to deal with the symptoms of a depression, you also have to concern yourself with what others may think. When you have, let’s say, pneumonia, no one is going to think less of you. When you have any sort of mental illness you all of a sudden become this mine field people are scared to get too close to. Employers may think of you as unreliable and unpredictable. Acquaintances believe having a more possitive outlook in life could help. Hey, some even dare to compare your situation with others with much, much more dramatic lives, as if to prove you have absolutely no reason to be depressed at all, so chill!
Comedian Ruby Wax has said it best:
Today I am taking a stand because I do not think it’s fair we keep putting this stigma on mental illness. I have done my research and I understand people with depression and anxiety disorders just need the right treatment, we need to train ourselves with the coping mechanisms to deal with the triggers of our symptoms, in some cases have the right medication. Even other mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, which have no cure, have found with the right amount of therapy and medication they can manage their condition quiet well (check out this lady for a very interesting illustration of what I mean)Does having had or having a mental illness means you can’t be a well-adjusted, contributing member of society? Hell, no! I’m still pretty awesome, I have valuable professional skills and can be an asset to any employer, client, or business. Would you think me inadequate if it were slightly more difficult for me to get around because I’m in a wheelchair? I don’t think so either.
Depression is an epidemic and it’s time we all realize this is not going to solve itself, no matter how much we hide it under the rug. The other day on the radio the news spoke about there are more people in Belgium on sick leave currently on sick leave. It seems our brains have not caught up the fast-paced lives of the industrialized modern world, as Ruby Wax mentions (here’s another great video!). And this is not just an epidemic of developed nations. Check out another amazing TED Talk, this time by Vikram Patel and a wonderful project to address mental illness in developing nations by involving the community:
Like those people, rich or poor, from developing or developed countries, I did not get a lot of “get well” cards from my illness. Mainly because it was a secret and I had a tremendous amount of shame about it. No more. Ok, maybe a little….but I’m sure it’ll soon be a distant memory (silly me, how could I’ve been embarrassed about that?). But slowly I started being open about to a small group of people. And I realized there is a whole bunch of us out there and very few are open and can admit it. So next time you learn someone is dealing with some type of mental illness, whether it’s a close friend, family, or a co-worker:
- Don’t be a douchebag. Whether on your head or when speaking to this person, please put any preconceived notions you may have about mental illness aside.
- It’s perfectly ok to ask “how are you?” or “how are you feeling?”. Try not to make a face of “oh you poor defenseless little bird”
- This person is still that person. With hopes, dreams, qualities and flaws. Mental illness is not one of those flaws. It’s just that, an illness
- And finally, just be kind (again, don’t do the “I feel your pain” face when it’s not appropriate).
About those flowers and get well cards…. no worries, no need to send me any, I’m improving every day! Plus I know you are rooting for me and that is really much, much better!