Some weeks back, Eric asked me to write a piece for Mental Health Awareness Month (May). I thought I would wait for inspiration. It’s now May 18 and inspiration has not arrived. In the words of Jack London, “You can’t wait for inspiration. You have to go after it with a club.” So I sit here banging on the letters of my keyboard, intent on making you aware of mental health.
Recently, many celebrities are touting mental health as they share their personal history with mental illness and/or mental health issues. Action movie star Dwayne “The Rock” Johnson. Singer Mariah Carey. Even Prince Harry. Mental health struggles are shared by the homeless immigrant and the Hollywood idol.
I’ve wondered for some time what happens when mental illness assumes the spotlight. When famous persons talk about their anxiety, their depression, their mania, does it serve to reduce stigma or does it increase the demanding expectations on those with severe mental illness?
If Prince Harry can get through his grief and still smile at royal functions, why can’t you get out of bed and take a shower?
If Kay Redfield Jamison can channel her manic depression to become one of the world’s leading experts on bipolar disorder, why can’t you finish a simple assignment?
The benefit of high achievers opening up about their emotional struggles is that we can be reassured that we are not alone, that we are not any less a human being for having a mental health diagnosis. The danger is that we berate ourselves for not being more like them.
As a writer, I have a plethora of role models who exhibited inordinate disordered behaviors. But I can’t expect I will compose epic tales like Tolstoy, plot like Poe, or poetic verse like Plath. Still, I do find comfort we are following the voice of a related muse.
Mental Health awareness month is not about competing for who has the most debilitating condition or who is conquering it the best. It’s about recognizing that no matter who we are, no matter what we do, we are of one common stock. The more we stand up, the less others have to fall.