A note on mental health awareness month.

May is coming to a close, and with it, mental health awareness month. Are we all aware? On my part, I haven’t acknowledged the significance of the month in this space, though many of you have followed this blog because of my mental health posts.

For you who don’t experience clinical depression and can’t begin to understand it, here’s a scenario that might help:

You’re in the locker room at the gym when your ear catches a song on the radio. The song brings a sense of nostalgia so vague, it’s a mere tease. You can’t identify the song. It’s maddening. You listen hard to catch the lyrics, but the T.V. is on, too, and its volume is louder than the radio’s. You struggle to block out the sound of HGTV’s Fixer Upper so you can focus on the song. Shazam isn’t an option because the song is too faint; all the app is going to tell you is that it doesn’t recognize Fixer Upper’s Chip and Joanna Gaines. In a near-panic, you hear the song beginning its end, fading off in a flock of lyrics. You catch one expression – just one – which yields nothing on search engines. After long moments of failed attempts, you toss aside the useless expression. You’ve long since forgotten the song’s melody. Then you can’t even remember what it was about the song. Others try to help, begging you to describe the song so they can tell you what it is.

The song is soon irrelevant, anyway, because all you remember is the experience of wanting to know something and being unable to find the answer. It seems like much ado about nothing, except it isn’t… it isn’t about nothing. It’s about everything.

This is what depression can feel like: a fruitless search for an answer to an unknown question.

In the end, nothing matters. You’re compelled to give up because of this one mysterious, amorphous thing. It all feels meaningless, and the feeling is contagious to everything in your life and in your world. You begin the exhausting fight against the downward pull, which you can’t explain or describe, either. You’re left with the cliché of the abyss.

It’s a relief when a doctor figures out that there’s something awry in your brain. You start taking medication, and it helps. You sit and interact with professional listeners, and that helps, too.

Depression demands answers. It’s also hard for those who don’t experience it… it’s hard to be outside of it looking at someone who’s locked within. Those who chastise the depressed (just snap out of it, etc.) make themselves heard more than those who feel compassionate. The result? Stigma riding on the back of this medical condition.

Unfortunately, stigma speaks louder than compassion. This is why mental health awareness month is important. Compassion needs a louder voice. It needs to be attached to depression and other mental health conditions more firmly than stigma… and awareness can give it a chance.



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