As children we are taught to identify what hurts, where it hurts, and how badly it hurts so someone we trust can fix it; a necessary skill we carry with us for the rest of our lives.
When my throat hurt, I told my mom, we went to the doctor, and got medicine.
When I fell and badly injured my knee during a field hockey game, my parents took me to a physical therapist.
But when I felt inexplicably sad, when the fear of failing became paralyzing, when I replayed my mistakes over and over again in my head, when stress made me feel like I couldn’t breathe, I told no one. I couldn’t identify what hurt, where it hurt, or why it hurt. I didn’t know who to go to, what words to use to describe what I was feeling, or how people would react, so I stayed silent.
I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression when I was 19 years old, but I’d been dealing with this for several years prior to my official diagnosis. Looking back, I wish I’d known then what I know now about the importance of taking care of your mental health.
Here are four reasons why you should take your mental health seriously, too:
1. Because It IS Serious
Diagnosed cases of anxiety and depression in teens and young adults have increased dramatically over the past several years and, with untreated mental health conditions often being linked to the countless acts of violence, it’s important that we do not take this issue lightly. Professional support is so important — I cannot stress that enough.
Sometimes, even in well-intentioned Catholic/Christian settings, pursuing professional help for mental health conditions can be met with adversity. Once, an individual who learned about my struggle with anxiety and depression told me I wasn’t surrendering everything to Jesus and needed spiritual help.
Certainly, a relationship with Jesus and a life lived for God are key components to happiness. In fact, I know from experience that my anxiety increases during times when I stray from God and remain stuck in sin. But mental health cannot be reduced to a lack of love for Jesus because it is a complicated psychological and biological reality.
2. Because You’re Not Meant to Do It Alone
Part of why I stayed silent for so long was because I felt like I should be able to control my thoughts and feelings. This mindset, in part, comes from our societal understanding that we should be able to control our emotions. Dr. Joyce Burland, the National Director of the Education, Training, and Peer Support Centers for the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI), explains that “our cultural understanding of mental illness is that you are just not trying hard enough. We never say that about cancer or heart disease. America thinks mental illness is something that can get self-corrected, and that is a vast misunderstanding.”
My insistence on handling my mental health on my own sometimes resulted in me resisting help. Something that helped me move beyond this tendency was when my mom told me that if I had diabetes, I would take insulin without thinking twice — I would never will my body to make insulin. In other words, I should not punish myself for my biological and psychological composition.
Counseling, medicine, diet, exercise, and the support of family and friends are all tools that should be utilized without shame or frustration. Jesus did not intend for you to bear this cross alone.
3. Because Your Relationships Are Important
In my darkest days of depression, I was a shadow of myself. I shut out the people I loved the most. I didn’t think they could possibly comprehend what I was feeling and so, rather than letting them help and support me, I rejected their love. There were times I did not want to admit I was having a hard day, was too tired to talk about my feelings, and feared that I was a burden. When they asked me how I was doing or what was wrong on those days, I would lie and say I was fine. This behavior was not only foolish but incredibly selfish. Unsurprisingly, this took a toll on my relationships and was at times a major source of tension.
I am incredibly blessed to have a family who loves me unconditionally and never gives up on me. However, I have a responsibility to take care of my mental health so I can be the best version of myself — not just for my own benefit, but out of love for the many important relationships in my life.
4. Because You Are Made for Greatness
It can be tempting to let your disorder completely define you, especially since managing your mental health can sometimes feel like a full time job. But you are not your depression, anxiety, or any other ailment that causes suffering. You are a beloved child of God, a daughter or son of the king. Your identity is in Christ and you are made for greatness!
There will be days when you find the courage to get out of bed, ask for help, accept help, go to counseling, go for a run, or walk into a crowded room. Those acts of courage, however small they may feel, are important, and God is with you in each of those acts.
When we fail to take our mental health seriously, we fail to take care of God’s creation. God blessed us with a body, mind, and spirit, and we are called to use them to the best of our ability to bring glory to God.
Don’t be Afraid to Share
While your mental health does not define you, I encourage you to find opportunities to own it. It’s not something to be ashamed of and it’s OK to share your struggle with others. I have become more honest and open about my struggles with anxiety and depression, however, there are still times I want to deny that piece of myself — mostly because I am afraid of being judged. Although there is a greater awareness of this topic today, there is still a stigma associated with mental health conditions that can result in stereotyping or discrimination.
This is the first time that I have publicly announced that I have anxiety and depression. It was not an easy decision to share my struggle, but I know how important it is to speak openly about this issue. My hope is that you too will have the courage to take your mental health seriously and in doing so, you just might give someone in your life permission to do the same.