“Oh my god, that’s so depressing!” For some, these words whiz in one ear and out the other. For others, these words accumulate into a larger discomfort, or even a suppressed shout, “No, it’s not!”
While there is some visibility, many of us still don’t understand how to talk about mental health. A lack of conversation creates more mystery, and, in turn, more silence. Further, the definitions and language surrounding mental illness are constantly evolving to become more accurate as more people start to open up about their own experiences.
Our definition of depression is skewed by our understanding of who it manifests in. In a speech about a friend’s mental illness, Robyn Lipschultz ‘16 talked about how assumptions play a role in associating mental illness with different people.
There are scientific and medical definitions that can give an outline of the forms mental illness can take. But so much is beneath the surface and specific to each individual that the best way to understand is to be inquisitive with them.
It’s important to talk about mental illness in the most respectful way possible to avoid forming or enforcing negative stereotypes. In preparing for her speech, Lipschultz asked her friend what language was appropriate, and found that “she said don’t say struggling [with depression], say living with [depression], because usually it’s not curable,” and “we don’t want to put it in a negative light.”
An anonymous individual also discusses the importance of conscientious language. They say that the term ‘suffering’ can become consuming; a defining characteristic. Instead, saying that someone is living and dealing with a mental illness can put it in perspective and phrase it as something they can overcome.
The only way to create a truly safe community is to encourage people to share their personal experiences living with mental illnesses. But someone has to break down the first barrier. Someone has to ask a question, and be brave enough to enter the vulnerable space of conversation. Remember that who you’re talking to is still the same person they’ve always been. You don’t need to look at them as less than a person. A member of our community who lives with mental illness affirms, “I’ve heard some people say that people with mental illnesses are weak, but they’re not, they’re actually the strongest people I know.”