How people LOOK from our perspective is usually NOT how they really ARE. And yet we live in a world where feel the need to see something before we believe it to be real. Unfortunately this causes significant barriers for people who have invisible conditions, especially if they are good at managing them (lets face it, in order to survive in this world we have all created various coping strategies, some healthier than others).
So how do we deal with this phenomenon without putting the onus on those who suffering to ‘prove’ their mental health conditions?
First of all we must acknowledge that anyone at any stage of life and any socio-economic status can suffer from mental health conditions. It is not a disorder for overly sensitive or emotional people, its not only when people are experiencing significant challenges or trauma, and it is certainly not a sign of weakness.
Secondly, we must trust people and what they are telling us. Of course there may be the odd person who claims to be depressed to get out of doing something, but I certainly don’t believe that is the norm. This reminds me of when someone attempts suicide and people around them say he was just doing it to get attention. Well, if someone is that desperate for attention, they NEED the attention!
Lastly, if we can create a safe environment for people to talk about mental health without judgement or fear of reprisal, we would quickly realize how many people are in fact suffering in silence (which of course compounds the problem). This would normalize these conditions and many people would likely access help sooner and recover more easily. Just like someone who thinks they may have broken their leg, they don’t wait a few weeks or months to see if it go away by itself and if they did, the healing process would likely be much longer once they finally did get medical attention. We need to reach this level of acceptance if we hope to change the time it takes for people to access help.
Its not only mental health conditions that have to deal with this. Recently my husband experienced debilitating but unexplained pain in his hip for over 3 weeks. He was on pain meds to keep him from screaming out it pain, but otherwise he ‘looked’ fine. So when a friend heard I’d taken him to the ER, their response was “but I just saw him and he looked fine, what happened?”. They were not trying to be insensitive, but the automatic response was ‘but he looked fine so some event must have occurred to explain the severity of the pain’. It was then up to me to validate why a trip to the ER was necessary and that was not a comfortable feeling for me.
I believe that anyone reading this would likely not disagree with any of these suggestions. But the fact remains that even the most well intentioned people can get blinded by appearances. So perhaps next time someone tells you that they have emotional or physical pain that cannot be seen, believe them and offer support in whatever way you are comfortable. This will start to shift the conversation from having to prove that there is a problem to how can we support the person.