I often see people sharing quotes, memes, and articles along the lines of, “What people don’t understand about depression…” or “Here’s what people don’t understand about anxiety.” And these quotes, memes, and articles are usually saying true and valid things about depression or anxiety, and it’s great that those are being shared.
I’m sure that almost everyone has encountered ignorance and misunderstanding regarding their situation, whether it be struggling with a mental health issue, a divorce, or other troubles. Many people have gotten facile or insulting advice on how to cure depression or anxiety or how to solve their other problems. That kind of misunderstanding can especially hurt when it comes from friends or family.
At the same time, the idea that most people are happy and fine, and our own struggles make us a rare and misunderstood kind of person, is one worth questioning, both in terms of mental health and in terms of life in general.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, almost one in five people in the United States suffer from a mental health issue during a given year, with depression and anxiety being by far the most common. If someone isn’t depressed or anxious, chances are excellent that they have been in the past and/or that they are close to someone who is. There may be people who don’t understand, but there are also a whole lot of people who do.
With other kinds of struggles, we likewise feel the temptation to think we have it worse than everyone else. Financial difficulties, weight issues, relationship problems, learning disabilities — these are all common, yet we can sometimes believe that while life is very hard for us, most people are breezing through their days without a care in the world.
It’s probably easy to believe this because don’t always see other people’s problems. Even if you always read my blog, you don’t know about all of mine, and I’m not putting them on Facebook or sharing them in casual conversation, either.
The fact that a problem is common doesn’t mean it isn’t hard. So why is it so important to remember that other people have serious struggles as well?
A big reason is that it’s good for us to remember that we’re not alone. The people we interact with every day, including the people who smile a lot and have cute outfits on and show up to the meeting early with color-coded folders… they’ve all got their big messes that they’re dealing with, too.
Sometimes we’re afraid to get help because we think we’re going to be judged. We don’t think people will understand, but chances are pretty good that they will.
Several years ago when I told coworkers that I was fighting suicidal urges, one of them told me they’d been through the same thing. Another told me her husband was currently dealing with it. I never would’ve guessed! I’d come close to dying because for a long while before that, I thought it was too embarrassing to go into full-time treatment. It wasn’t embarrassing, and even if it had been, let’s be clear: embarrassed is better than dead.
Here’s the other reason why it’s good to remember that other people have struggles, too. It reminds us that people may be speaking from their own personal experience… even if their opinions or advice don’t sound right to us. We all deal with problems in different ways, and solutions that work for one person don’t always work for another. Keeping this in mind can help us avoid discord and misunderstandings.
For instance, if a friend tells a depressed person that prayer might help, the depressed person might get angry at the suggestion, thinking the friend doesn’t understand how serious depression is. But there’s a possibility that the friend has been through serious depression, and that prayer did help them. That doesn’t mean it would be right for everyone, of course. But if the depressed person remembers that the friend may be speaking from personal experience, there less likely to get angry… even if the friend isn’t exactly helping.
Realizing that most people deal with serious problems helps us to be more compassionate to those around us, including coworkers and classmates, neighbors and strangers. It gives us a context for all of our interactions.
Have you encountered misunderstandings from others? Have you had times where you realized you weren’t the only one dealing with your problems? I’d love to hear about it in the comments. Thanks for reading, and I hope you’re having a good week!