Actress Kristen Bell has written a brave article for Motto online discussing her struggle with both anxiety and depression. Her honesty has sent the internet abuzz with heartfelt appreciation. She has written candidly about her experience in an effort to encourage honesty, to de-stigmatize mental illness, and to bust many of the myths surrounding depression and anxiety.
We can learn a heck of a lot from Bell’s article, not least some key lessons on how we should be responding to those who are suffering from these afflictions. As Bell says, almost 20 percent of American adults face some form of mental illness in their lifetime. This a problem too big not to address!
However, too often we do not understand mental illness. This ignorance breeds a belittlement of the issue. We can be guilty of thinking that if we can simply improve the quality of someone’s life, then their depression will lift. Bell sets the record straight on this one. As a successful actress, she talks about how depression can strike regardless of circumstance. “Anxiety and depression are impervious to accolades or achievements,” she writes. “Anyone can be affected, despite their level of success or their place on the food chain. In fact, there is a good chance you know someone who is struggling with it.”
Another common mistake is thinking that people are just ‘a bit sad,’ when they are suffering from a debilitating bout of depression. Many seek to tear down people for not being ‘happy enough’ or a drag to hang out with. Would you tell someone who was struck down with cancer the same thing? Desperately trying to inject joy into peoples lives is unlikely to cure them of their depression.
“Here’s the thing: For me, depression is not sadness,” writes Bell. “It’s not having a bad day and needing a hug. It gave me a complete and utter sense of isolation and loneliness. Its debilitation was all-consuming, and it shut down my mental circuit board. I felt worthless, like I had nothing to offer, like I was a failure.”
What do you say to a depressed person? We often find ourselves lost for words. “What if my advice is wrong?” You think. “What if I make them worse?” We need to learn how to be comfortable with addressing these complex issues without fear. Don’t get awkward about it! “There’s nothing weak about struggling with mental illness,” writes Kristen.
Bell also encourages people to go to the doctor if they are suffering from symptoms of mental illness. This may be a simple piece of advice, but it is utterly essential to anyone going through a mental health issue. Too often, we shove the emotional darkness to the back our minds, hurriedly telling ourselves to ‘keep calm and carry on.’ The problem is, that mentality is actively setting oneself up for an acute mental health crisis. Get help early, be honest, be open, and disregard the opinions of those who do not understand your illness. Embrace your support network and insist on receiving the very best treatment. This is so important.