I read an opinion piece this week that was right on target. Its main point: We need to stop apologizing for our mental health.
The author recognizes how far we’ve come in reducing the stigma surrounding mental illness — those living with different conditions are posting about them on social media and even talking about them at work, while many athletes and other celebrities have addressed their own issues in public — but says the stigma will remain as long as we keep apologizing for the way mental health affects our lives.
If we stay in because we’re too depressed or anxious to go out — no need to apologize. If we are visibly hyper when having a manic episode — don’t say sorry. If we take medication for mental health in front of someone — no apology necessary.
Of course we need to apologize if we treat someone badly, but if we’re just acting oddly or showing symptoms of a mental illness, there’s no need to be embarrassed or regretful. Here’s how the column’s author puts it:
“It’s almost as if we’re just about comfortable enough to say, ‘yes, I have a mental illness’, but we’re not quite brave enough to do it without worrying about what other people might think, which leads us to apologising for every symptom that may come to light in front of other people.
“But I feel continuing to do so is just taking us two steps back from having complete and utter freedom to speak out about mental health issues.
“While I understand it can be an uncomfortable subject for many, especially if they don’t have any friends or family who themselves live with mental illness, I think we need to remember that it is just that: an illness.
“Much like a broken leg, the illness affects your way of life. It affects the way you think, the way you feel, the way you act, and the way you live your life.
“But as it’s an invisible illness, we’re so quick to forget this. The people around us forget this.
“And because of that, people who live with a mental illness go on to feel guilty about it, feeling as though the only way they can confidently talk about it is to apologise at the start of the conversation.
“But look at it this way. Would a person apologise to you before taking a paracetamol for a headache? Would they apologise to you because they broke a bone and can’t make it out that night? No, they wouldn’t.
“They would tell you they weren’t well, and they wouldn’t feel guilty about it – because there’s simply nothing they can do about it.”
The columnist has a lot more to say, too. It’s worth a read. Check it out here.
Satu Woodland is owner and clinician of Mental Health Solutions, an integrative mental health practice located at Bown Crossing in Boise, Idaho. She sees children, adolescents, and adults. Information in this blog is not intended as medical advice. Please consult your health care provider about decisions regarding your health.