Guest Column: Let people with mental illness know you care

Published 10:09 pm Tuesday, July 31, 2018

Guest Column by Mark Jacobson

Mark Jacobson


To those who don’t understand mental illness:

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Please be patient. Like any other organ, the brain gets sick. When the brain gets sick, it is hard to know where it comes from and why. It is difficult to deal with sometimes, and we can tell that the way we function may be a little skewed.

When you have a mental illness, you are not in full control of your brain. When you have a sort of phobia, you have an irrational fear that can be crippling. When you are depressed, you could have the best things in the world, but that will not change that you have difficulty getting up in the morning. When you have severe schizophrenia, you see and hear things that are not there, and usually heavy medication is the only way to minimize your symptoms.

Mental illness can often be crippling. Along with the side effects of the illness itself, you have to deal with the side effects of how the world treats you. There is a stigma that faces mental illness, and it makes it difficult for people to ask for help. Mental illness is viewed as something that people fake or that it is not life-altering and nobody really understands what it is like to live with mental illness — or even multiple illnesses — unless you have one.

Please understand that this is not something that is easy. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I understand that my thoughts are not accurate. I understand that my perception of the world is altered because of my mental illness, but that means nothing.

Please understand that, like any other disease, this is real, and it is a major part of our lives. It is something we must deal with, and it is crucial to have a strong support system to get us through our daily lives. We constantly deal with the stigma that we are faking it or that our illness is not serious — that we need to get over it.

When something is taking over your brain and changing how you behave, perceive the world and feel, it is difficult to even understand yourself. I have trouble finding a time in my life where I did not suffer from any sort of mental illness. Mental illness severely alters a person’s life, and sometimes we just need you to be patient with us.

It is OK that you don’t know exactly how it feels. If anything, be thankful that you don’t. That does not mean you should write our illness off as something you don’t need to worry about.

Encourage those close to you to worry about their mental health. Also, don’t be afraid to worry about your own mental health. Anyone can suffer from a mental illness.

For years I questioned that I was living with multiple mental illnesses, and I struggled to understand why. I didn’t know any better, and it affected the world around me.

Educate yourself about mental health. Understand what happens to a person when they suffer from a mental illness. Understand that, though every illness is different, they are all the same in that every single one is serious. We all need to start caring for ourselves more.

We lose loved ones to suicide every minute of every day. Suicide is too common of a side effect, and without erasing the stigma and taking mental health seriously, we will only continue to lose more loved ones. They may not be your sister or brother, a parent or a friend, but they are a person, a living being. As tragic as it is to lose someone because of cancer, it is just as tragic to lose someone because of mental illness. Not all who suffer from mental illness commit suicide, but the rate is still much too high.

We are not faking. We are not weak. We are strong. We just want to be understood and that mental illness is serious.

Let us know you care. Take the time to get to know someone with a mental illness. It will be difficult but know that it is also difficult on us as well. Please be patient. Please be kind. Give those of us with mental illness a reason to hope. Hope is the basis upon which foundations are built. Let’s build a stronger foundation together.

Mark Jacobson is a peer support specialist for Hiawatha Valley Mental Health in Winona.