“The person has bipolar disorder. They are not ‘just’ bipolar. They are more than that.”

These words, spoken by the professor of my undergraduate psychology class, helped me to shake the habit of taking one aspect of a person and projecting it onto their entire being. Think about how you describe people. Do you often say, ‘That person is depressed; that person is schizophrenic?’ It sounds like we’re saying that is all they are. People are more than any one, singular trait. Once people are assigned a ‘label,’ we often don’t see past that. The added challenge with mental illness is that we often see these labels resulting in lots of negativity.

What is life like with a mental illness? Some of us may never know. For others who are struggling with one, they may not realize that their struggles are shared by millions (Tweet this). Two people can be diagnosed with the same illness and yet experience things completely differently. Perhaps that’s why, when faced with someone who may be suffering, we don’t know how to react. Many of us ask them to ‘see the bright side’ or try to find a solution as if buying a new t-shirt or eating a cookie could cure their anxiety or depression. This may also be why so many feel the need to hide their struggles. They fear not being understood or accepted. Perhaps, they themselves don’t understand what is happening.

Think about it: someone with a mental health issue is dealing with their own confusion about what is happening plus managing to look and act ‘normal,’ all the while fending off concern and negativity from others. That sounds exhausting even on a perfect day.

There is help available though. If you are struggling with mental health issues, talk to your friends. If you are that friend, listen. I mean, really listen. Don’t judge, don’t act, don’t problem solve (Tweet this). Validate their thoughts and feelings. Encourage them to see a counselor if this is affecting their life negatively. Counseling can be transforming and healing. Know that there are community resources that are affordable; there are counselors out there who accept whatever the client is capable of paying. Counseling is not a resource just for the wealthy (Tweet this).

There are many times in my life that I would have benefited from counseling: growing up managing multiple hyphenated identities, making sense of my career, and learning to be myself in a world where others want me to be their version of ‘appropriate.’ In my early years, I had never heard of counseling and even if I had, I would not have had access to it due to cultural stigmas. This stigma isn’t exclusive to Muslim communities though. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), African American and Hispanic Americans utilized mental health services at half the rate of White Americans; Asian Americans at one third the rate (NIMH). https://www.nami.org/NAMI/media/NAMI-Media/Infographics/GeneralMHFacts.pdf

What we ‘risk’ by breaking the stigma is wellness. Not a bad trade off, right? The silence surrounding mental health issues is compounded by our actions. We individually help create this society (Tweet this). We can each do our part to break down barriers, encourage others  to end their silent suffering, and make happiness a possibility. I know I want that for myself so why wouldn’t I create the opportunity for happiness for others as well?