Several months ago, I wrote a blog post about my experience with mental illness and how that part of me has shaped my career trajectory and my research. I have struggled with mental illness since I was 13 years old and as some might imagine, it was extremely difficult to get to a point where I could talk publicly about it.
I remember worrying about what kind of impact this could have on my career; would people be supportive? Would they secretly think, “This guy is mentally unstable, we can’t really trust him!” or “His work is biased because he is personally affected by mental illness?”
When I saw the blog post published, I felt a strange combination of dread, relief, sadness, and hope that is difficult to describe.
I dreaded the potential consequences. I didn’t want to feel judged, stigmatized, and discriminated for having a mental illness.
On the other hand, I felt relief because after 22 years of spending so much energy trying to keep it a secret, I finally opened up about my mental illness. It made no sense to try hide it any longer because it was online.
I also felt sad because it’s so unfair that I and others like me have to struggle with both mental illness and also the immense fear of being stigmatized and discriminated against instead of understood and supported. No one should have to go through that.
Finally, I felt hope. I thought that speaking openly about mental illness might help others with similar experiences. Twelve years from now, my daughter will turn 13. I hope if she ever experiences any of the symptoms I experienced when I was that age, she will feel more comfortable talking about it. I hope that when she is 13, our society no longer stigmatizes mental illness.
The blog post has been viewed nearly 20,000 times, and readers have reached out to me to speak about my experience and collaborate on related projects. Some simply thank me for “coming out.” Each one of these notes has been exceptionally meaningful to me.
This Mental Health Month, I hope you take the opportunity to help break mental health stigma in your own way. Every action counts – we can only accomplish this important goal if we work together.