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Opening Up About Illness

Words of Wellness (Stentor November Issue)

Mental Illness is a scary topic, but unfortunately, the way our society functions, it is common among people of all ages. As college students, we face many challenges that compromise our mental health such as anxiety, depression, insomnia, and more. If you are not experiencing such compromising forces, there is a very high likelihood that someone close to you is. It is important to remain educated about mental illness, how to talk about it, and how to address it in your own life as well as someone else’s.

Many people struggle to classify mental illness, or even more often classify mental illness as “not as bad” as a physical illness. The great amount of psychological strides we have made within the last few decades proves this to be untrue. Mental Illness functions the exact same way physical illness does: it exhausts the body and mind; the mind will try to heal itself like an immune system does with defense mechanisms; and like a disease, when not treated or addressed, the illness can grow more powerful, consuming the mind and body of the person living with it. Also similar to physical illness, Mental Illness has triggers that will make it flare up. Some days are better than others, and this is crucial to understand if you know someone close to you who is living with mental illness of any kind.

Just like a Physical Illnesses respond to medications differently, people with Mental Illness respond to support in different ways. There are many ways to be supportive, and it takes time, openness, and compassion to understand the best methods to support your friends. While one person may want someone to talk to on a bad day, another person may want someone to hug. Another person may also want someone to distract them and keep them active and away from the negative thoughts. It can be very helpful to have an open conversation with your friend or loved one and to take time to understand what they experience through their battle with mental illness. Furthermore, a conversation can open the door for the question, “what can I do to support you?” Not only does this give your friend autonomy and power over their own life and illness, but it allows you to understand fully how to be the best and most positive support system in their life. This type of communication is key in a relationship when someone is struggling with any kind of mental illness because the first two things that are necessary for support are true understanding and compassion.

We are all very close to Mental Illness, and while it is a hefty challenge to face, we have all the power to be a positive force in its wake. It all starts with understanding how it functions and honest communication.