People make assumptions about what people with mental illnesses look like, all the time. If I asked you to describe a person with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia…you could all probably make a pretty good stab at a stereotypical version.
Have a look at these photos. Can you tell me, in which ones do I look depressed?
It’s a trick question, of course. In all of these photos I was depressed.
It’s hoped that (the dreaded) awareness campaigns do something to reduce the stereotypes, but the truth is, I’m not hopeful.
I’m not hopeful, because today, despite telling my CPN (a trained mental health professional), that I was feeling low and having thoughts of suicide, her reaction was “but aren’t you looking well”, “you’re so much more engaged”, “you’re getting out and Doing Things“. And while I recognise that these outside factors play a part in getting better, I refuse to believe you can judge the state of someone’s mental health solely on what they look like/how they act/how much they’re doing.
I am a people pleaser. I put on a face. I am aware that everyone does this to a greater or lesser degree in their lives. But I am a master at it. It’s part of the reason it took mental health services years to offer me the help that I had needed from the start.
The real reason that I’m “looking well” (have lost weight), and am “much more engaged” (talk more and make eye contact) and am able to get out and “do things” (though collapsing in a heap when I get home more often than not), is that they changed my medication. The last medication I was on, I found heavily sedating. I ate loads and put on a lot of weight, and I didn’t have the energy to speak, never mind do things other than attend my appointments.
So they have changed my medication, and I have gone back to ‘presenting’ how I did when this all began. I am told I come across as “bright, articulate and insightful”, while I crumble inside and my mind makes dangerous plans that I have more motivation for, now that I’m not ‘drugged up’.
But if a professional can’t see this, then how can we ever hope the general public to be able to understand?