Mental Illness: Awareness vs. Knowledge

While I believe Bell has made great strides towards opening up the conversation about mental illness and ending the stigma surrounding it, I worry that the important information is still not getting through.

I do think that as a society, we have made great progress towards ending the stigma, however in the people around me, I don’t feel that the message is really getting through.

Its one thing to be aware of the fact that lots of people struggle with mental illness, and to know that there are different kinds of mental illness, but I don’t think people really understand what those different types of illnesses really are. They don’t understand how they actually effect the people who have them.

I know it is difficult to really understand it if you haven’t been through it yourself, but there is so much information out there, that it baffles me that people don’t know more.

When my doctor told me I had an anxiety disorder, I didn’t just take his word for it and move on. I wanted to know exactly what it meant. I didn’t know what it was. So, the first thing I did when I got home was I Googled it. I spent a lot of time Googling it. I read lots and lots of articles and information online. They all pointed me to the same conclusion. My doctor was right. I have generalized anxiety disorder. Its so completely obvious, knowing all the things that it causes, like the excessive worry and stressing about things. Had I researched the topic sooner, I probably would have known that I had it. I would have expected the diagnosis. Course I would have thought that I was being a hypochondriac, but I know that I’m not, because my doctor told me I had it before I knew what it was, what it meant.

Whenever I hear about other things that I don’t know about or understand, I Google them. I don’t want to be the person who doesn’t know about something. That’s partly why I have so many random facts stored in my brain, which people totally make fun of me for. I knowing things inside and out. I often get fascinated by various topics, and I will keep researching until I feel like I know enough to move on.

Maybe that is a bit obsessive, and maybe that’s part of my illness, but it confounds me that other people don’t do the same thing, at least to some degree. Someone tells you they have an illness, wouldn’t you want to know what that meant? If someone told you they had some obscure condition that no one had ever really heard of, wouldn’t you want to know more about it? I would!

Its the same with other things too. I’m a techie. If I hear about some new cool gadget or whatever, I’m going to want to know about it. So I do some internet research. I do the exact same thing. But I’m here to talk about mental illness, so lets just skip over that topic….

My Experience

One thing that people keep telling me when I tell them I’m stressed, is to just hang in there.

Get through it.

Don’t stress.

It’ll get better.

No offence, but this makes me want to punch you. You don’t understand it. You think you’re helping. They’re just making it worse. Comments like that make me angry and more stressed.

In all honesty, there probably isn’t anything you can actually say or do to make me feel better, but saying things like this do not help.

One person, right after I told them that I had generalized anxiety disorder, they basically completely ignored it. The worst was, when I told them I was stressed, they told me not to worry about it. Don’t stress about it. That doesn’t help me!! That is what my illness is. I worry. I stress. Whether its rational or not! Whether you tell me I don’t need to, or not. It doesn’t make it go away.

The thing that really gets me is that this person also knows someone who has social anxiety, but I don’t think they knew that there were different kinds of anxiety disorders. In a later conversation, they mentioned this person, and then said that I seem more social.

I don’t have social anxiety disorder. I have generalized anxiety disorder. That does cause a certain amount of social anxiety, but I don’t get physically ill at the thought of having to go out and interact with people. I feel extremely uncomfortable, quite often, and I do get anxious, but its my type of anxiety that both keeps me from getting out of the uncomfortable social situation. I worry what people will think. I don’t think they’ll believe my excuses, so instead of escaping, I sit and stew in my anxiety and fear until I find a reasonable excuse to get out.

Obviously, social anxiety and generalized anxiety can be connected. People can have both. That doesn’t mean everyone who has one necessarily has the other. I don’t have the numbers on this, but I feel like it is more common for someone to have more than one type of anxiety disorder or another related mental illness, like depression (another mental illness that also has multiple types) or bipolar disorder, than it is to have just one of those illnesses on its own. That’s kind of just my opinion based on what I’ve been reading. I don’t know if that is actually true though.

A different person, who I told about my anxiety disorder, said something that I never expected to hear come out of someone’s mouth.

“That’s pretty common.”





I didn’t even know how to respond. I was completely taken aback. I didn’t even get the chance to ask what exactly they meant by it being “pretty common” because they sort of just brushed the whole thing off and went on about something else.

In later conversations, I tried to remind the same person that I don’t deal with stress the way others do. But I don’t think the message has gotten across, due to the interactions we’ve had since. (I’m being vague, because I’m trying to keep identities private here.)

In fact, right now, I really don’t know how to deal with it. I only just found out a couple months ago why I don’t handle stress well, so I’m still trying to understand how my brain works, because it does work differently than most people’s.

Awareness vs. Knowledge

Thinking, “oh that person has depression, they’re just sad” is not right. Yeah, sure someone with depression may be sad on occasion, but that’s not all it is. Depression is not sadness. Depression is a lot of other things. Its feeling hopeless. Thinking “what’s the point.” Low energy for everyday activities. Feeling angry or irritable.

The thing that really got me is that, before I was diagnosed with generalized anxiety disorder, I thought anxiety was just like social anxiety and panic attacks. When I heard someone say the word anxiety, that’s what I thought of. But in my case that’s not really what it is. I worry. A lot. I worry about everything. Worry usually turns into stress. I stress about things that shouldn’t be stressed about. People don’t know that. But if they took the time to do a little bit of research on the topic they might be able to gain even a small amount of understanding about what the various mental illnesses are.

I think people not only need to be more aware of mental illness, they also need to be educated about mental illnesses. They need to understand how those illnesses effect us in every day life in order to properly end the stigma.

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