If I had a nickel for every article about how mental illness (or specific disorders, such as depression and/or anxiety) isn't cool/quirky/trendy…Well, you know the rest.
Mental illness isn't fun. We can all agree on that. But have you seen anyone going around saying they wish they had a mental illness? That depression would look super cute with those new shoes? That Seventeen Magazine said that anxiety is the hottest new fad this spring? Yeah, didn't think so.
If someone shares with you they have a mental illness or think they may, and your first thought is that they must be faking or using it as an excuse, you are no better than society at large. You are taking that person's vulnerability and using it to exclude them from a community they might really be needing right now. They might not know the correct terminology to express how they feel. They might not be comfortable sharing everything they are struggling with (and they aren't obligated to disclose a damn thing in the first place!) or they themselves might be still trying to wrap their head around their struggles, and what mental illness is.
If you want to help others with mental illness, you have to first start by dropping your judgments.
Drop your picture of what a person with a mental illness looks like. Remember that even the most seemingly confident, happy, successful person can be horribly depressed, anxious, and in other ways distraught behind the scenes.
When you continually contribute to ideas that exclude and shame people, you are letting an incredible opportunity for empathy and connection slip by. You can't claim to be accepting of everyone and then call out people who "use depression as an excuse" or "say they have anxiety to seem cute" because, newsflash, that's just you making a huge assumption.
It's ok to feel defensive about your mental illness, and I think all of us do, to a degree. Society is improving every day, but it still has so far to go to become truly aware and accepting of mood and personality disorders. You feel like you have to justify yourself every single day. I understand how it can be a knee-jerk reaction to take that feeling of isolation we experience and assume that people who experience mental illness differently from you, or at least appear to, aren't legit.
It's up to you to turn that feeling of isolation into a spirit of kindness and empathy.
If we as a community don't change this attitude, we are only perpetuating the same harmful ideas that hurt us every day. Next time you find yourself wishing people didn't turn mental illness into a fashion statement, instead use it as an opportunity to ask yourself, am I showing others the kindness that I needed when I was first struggling? Or am I shutting people out without taking time to even hear the opening lines of their story?
Remember the Golden Rule: treat others as you want to be treated. That's all there is to it!