We Cannot Continue to Ignore Mental Illness

By Cath Lei

   I’ve dealt with depression. I never thought it was a big deal - or rather, I never thought it was a big deal to anyone other than myself. It was strange finding out there was a whole community of people who dealt with the same thing or had had similar experiences. My struggles were always invalidated by the people who were supposed to be closest to me: as far as I was concerned, I was living a good life. I had two parents. My grades were intact - even at a time when grades had so little significance. I lived under a roof. I got three meals a day. I could wake up in the morning without struggle. I could finish multiple projects, push myself to my limits - I was what most people would define as “perfect”. It’s hard to believe that accomplished people struggle- it’s hard to believe they ever stumble at all. They seem to function without failure: without any problem at all. But I can’t say they, I can only say we.

   There’s the feeling of inadequacy. Everyone feels that way from time to time - but that feeling is what ended up pushing me forward. Doubt from parents pushes us forward, and doubt from ourselves does the same. I suppose it seems normal, I mean, people push themselves all the time. What’s new? It felt like a paradox. I’d always outdo myself, only to feel empty inside. Accomplishments held so little significance. I sought approval from parents, teachers, friends, and myself. The problem? I got too caught up in it. I was losing grasp of my interests; I was losing grasp of myself. My existence only mattered if I received approval. But nobody knew that.

   We stay quiet because nobody takes a second glance at us. An article from Tom Wootton (via Psychology Today) covers the very surface level of what we call 'high-functioning depression'. Wootton says “some might argue that I am not depressed because I am productive. They believe that the very definition of depression precludes any ability to function at all...I have learned to separate what it feels like to be depressed from how I respond to it”. We have similar symptoms at the surface level. Wootton was told he wasn’t depressed by Aaron Beck (Beck Depression Inventory), but when Wootton described his symptoms, Beck's opinions changed. Amanda Leventhal (via The Mighty), explains her psychiatrist's evaluation of her. In response to knowing about Leventhal’s 4.0 GPA, countless extracurriculars and clubs, and numerous advanced classes, her psychiatrist says “you seem to be pretty high-functioning, but your anxiety and depression seem pretty severe. Actually, it’s teens like you who scare me a lot”. Leventhal realized that whenever depression was represented on media, it was almost always people visibly losing control: grades dropping, family life worsening, and isolation.

   We always see the same stock images. The only time we see people like us anywhere is when they announced yet another suicide attempt. There are always the same comments. Nobody would have known, nobody would have assumed anything. Nobody had any idea. We seemed to be the most invisible.

   So, here’s a project. It’s called The Happiest People Project. It was created in hopes of giving people the push they need to go and get the help they deserve. As the project began to take a more definitive shape, it expanded. It’s not just here for those with high-functioning depression, but everyone who has dealt with, is dealing with, or may be dealing with mental illness. Why is this project so important? Because silence will only lead to more silence. Every second that the world spends not speaking up is another second wasted, and another life lost. Every life that has been impacted by mental illness is different. Hopefully with this project, people will be reminded that not a single person deserves to be shoved in a box with a label, or judged based off of items on a checklist, that struggles are more than just skin deep, and those struggles cannot be invalidated.

You can find out more about it HERE: thehappiestpeopleproject.tumblr.com

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