If you have a mental health issue or even a diagnosed mental illness, you probably are all too familiar with very annoying questions from well-meaning friends, family, professors, teachers, and even strangers...
1. Did you forget to take your meds?
For many people, taking psychiatric medications becomes a part of daily life. It is part of the routine: in the morning, at meal times or at bedtime.
Meds are so much more complicated than most people think. It can take YEARS to find the right medication, medication combination, or even the right DIAGNOSIS. So, it takes patience. Taking a medication will not magically make all of your symptoms go away. For many conditions, there is no "cure" and medications simply alleviate some effects.
There is the trouble of side effects, from severe vision problems to Stevens-Johnson Syndrome (SJS) to significant weight change. Medications can also take weeks to become fully effective, so don't think that your friend on SSRIs (anti-depressants) will be "better" after 3 days of starting a new medication.
2. Have you tried this, that, or the other to "feel better"?
This makes it seem like people have mental illnesses because they aren't even trying to be well or happy. This is NOT the case. Physical illnesses can be exhausting; the same goes for mental illnesses. Bipolar disorder made me have: insomnia, appetite loss, extreme weight drops, fainting spells... it wasn't pretty.
It's almost comical that people think that "mental" illnesses don't have a great impact on the body. I mean... this is the BRAIN we are talking about! It affects EVERYTHING, from hormones to body responses to sleep to appetite to ability to function. Progressive muscle relaxation or Zumba or relaxing music will not cure my depression or other mental illnesses. I wish it were that simple.
3. Are you sure that you really have _____ mental illness?
If psychiatrists and clinical psychologists and primary care doctors have all agreed that I have the symptoms of a certain medical condition, who are you to say that I don't? This question often comes from someone with little to no medical, clinical psychological or psychiatric training. The symptoms are real. The diagnosis is real.
The mental illness is real. Just because it has a "mental illness" rather than "physical illness" label doesn't mean that it is any less valid.
4. Are you just doing this for attention?
NO. I do not wish to be mentally ill. I do not wish to have anxiety that gives me panic attacks. I do not wish to have depression that strips me of my motivation, personality, and happiness. I do not wish to have mania that takes away my self-awareness and my ability to think clearly or make good decisions. I am not "bipolar" or "depressed" or "anxious" or anything else for attention.
5. Is your mental illness just an excuse for school/relationship/friend/family troubles?
My mental illnesses are not an excuse, but they are an explanation for many of the fights that I have had with my: friends, partners and parents.
My mania symptoms were the reason I was incapable of completing my final exams during a fall semester at UNC. My mania was the reason that I turned in a two-page paper for a six-page paper assignment in my upper-level psychology course. My mania was the reason I turned against the very people who were trying to help me when I was having a full-blown manic episode.
My mental illnesses sometimes get out of hand, so please try to be understanding.
6. Are you seeing a doctor/therapist/psychiatrist/psychologist?
Since 2014, I've seen: my primary care provider, two clinical social workers, two out-patient psychiatrists, two clinical psychologists, and numerous in-patient medical providers. It's not that I have not tried to seek out help.
Finding the right professional for mental health is SO hard. There are not enough qualified professionals to deal with the mental illness population. Then, there is also the fact that some professionals will turn away patients with "risky" diagnoses.
Why take on a patient with severe mania and OCD who just got out of the psych ward when you could have a mild, simple anxiety case instead? Yes, even doctors or psychologists can turn away patients they think are not worth the effort, unfortunately.
I wish that everyone could have a compassionate, well-educated professional to help them, but it just isn't the reality of the situation.
Mental health and illness are sensitive topics, so please be careful with how you ask about someone's condition or health.