• Those who don’t suffer with a mental health condition themselves often lack an adequate understanding of these conditions—which is why it’s so important we have conversations about mental health and continue to raise awareness.
  • Mental health pros identified a few important things to know: first, depression can vary among each person affected and common illnesses (like depression) are still serious.
  • Additionally, living with a mental illness is often more difficult than it appears—the suffering is very much internal, rather than external; anxiety, for example, often goes unseen but it is a very real condition with very serious effects.
  • Also, two lesser known facts, are that people with ADHD process time differently and all mothers run the risk of developing postpartum depression.
  • Finally, you can’t simply rid yourself or cure yourself of a mental illness—still, nobody is defined by their mental health condition.

Our society struggles to discuss and understand mental health. Those who don’t suffer with a mental illness themselves often possess false beliefs about depression, anxiety, PTSD, and every other disorder out there—which is exactly why we need to have these important conversations and raise the right awareness for mental health. Therapists, counselors, coaches, and individuals who live with a mental illness every day, are here to take the reins of this discussion. Here’s what they want you to know:

1) Depression can vary greatly from person-to-person.

Kayleen Pen, a licensed professional counselor in Chicago, works with clients who possess a variety of mental health issues; however, many of them have major depressive disorder—an illness that is largely misunderstood. “What many don’t realize is that depression can look incredibly unique to each person. Many believe it is a heavy state of sadness, but it can be so much more,” she explains. “Depression can act as a thief in the fact that it steals your motivation, energy, and desires. Getting out of bed can be one of the hardest things a person can do with depression. However, it is also one of the most important things a person needs to do when they are depressed.”

2) Common illnesses are still serious illnesses.

JF Garrard, the President of Dark Helix Press, has depression and PTSD, and she wants you to take those diagnoses seriously: “The two illnesses I have are often talked about in the media, which is great, but at the same time, people do not take it seriously as they seem very common. The severity of both are underestimated, and it is difficult for someone who has depression or PTSD to put into words how badly they are doing. If mental illness was a skin wound, things would be easier because you can see a person bleeding. However, with mental illness, it is very difficult to assess unless the person is willing to share. Often sick people do not have the energy to deal with other people, it is easier to shut everything out. Generally, I want people to know that people who are depressed or have PTSD will isolate themselves, but people should not leave them alone. Check in with them once in a while and when they are ready to share, be available to help.”

3) People with ADHD perceive time differently.

ADHD consultant and coach Brendan Mahan says there are many things he wishes people understood about attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, “but perhaps the most significant is the unique relationship with time that people with ADHD have. For people with ADHD, a minute is not always a minute and an hour is not always an hour. They process time differently: the more engaging the task, the quicker time passes for them; the less engaging, the slower. While this is true to everyone, for people with ADHD, the phenomenon is much more severe and much more pronounced. As a result, they often spend too much time on some activities and not enough on others. It also contributes to the ADHD tendency to be late.”

4) Living with mental illness is often tougher than it appears.

“Living with mental illness is tough, and it’s even tougher when the people around you don’t know how to handle it,” explains Caleb Backe, Health and Wellness Expert for Maple Holistics. “For instance, being able to communicate that positive reinforcement isn’t always helpful can be one of the hardest things for people suffering from depression. Depression and other mental illnesses shouldn’t always be approached simply. People can suggest that you think more positively or focus on the good, but they don’t understand that it’s just not that simple. Sometimes you just need to ride the wave and know that it will get better in time. That being the case, people with depression sometimes just need the space and support (often from a distance) to get past the current state of mind.”

5) Anxiety often goes unseen—but it still exists.

“The thing I most wish other people knew about anxiety is that it is, to the untrained eye, often invisible!” says home-based freelancer and founder of HomeWorkingClub.com, Ben Taylor. “This was brought home to me at a Christmas party where there’s a photograph of me looking just fine when I was in the middle of a huge panic attack. Unfortunately, this means that people have to take your word for it that you’re feeling all wrong. When you’re talking to someone without experience of mental health issues, this can be very hard for them to comprehend, especially when there are no visual cues for them to react to.” Ben goes on to say that being open about mental health is key to better awareness and hopes that his remarks continue this important conversation.

6) You can’t simply rid yourself of a mental illness.

Judith Klausner is an artist who suffers with anxiety; she wishes that everyone understood mental illness often can’t be easily resolved. “Sometimes you can’t just do something. It’s not a matter of not trying hard enough, or not wanting it enough. It doesn’t work that way, and suggesting that it does is incredibly hurtful and harmful.” Furthermore, the realistic, attainable goal is to function happily again: “The goal isn’t necessarily to get off of medication. The goal is to work with your healthcare professional(s) to find a solution that allows you to be a functional, happy person, whatever that solution is. Many people assume that everyone’s goal should be living medication-free, and for some of us, that would mean a life with our brain chemistry perpetually out of whack. The idea that medication is inherently unnatural or harmful is a dangerous one.”

7) No new mother is immune to postpartum depression.

“The thing I wish folks knew, as a professionally-trained therapist and professional-certified coach, is that even professional, well-spoken women get postpartum depression,” says Sarah McVanel, Chief Recognition Officer at Greatness Magnified. “At my first child’s six-month baby wellness visit, I told my doctor I thought I was depressed. She replied, ‘You’re too articulate to be depressed… you wouldn’t know it.’ Despite my training, my PPD made me doubt myself and I went undiagnosed until she sent me to a sleep specialist who—you guessed it—diagnosed it right away. Sure enough, with proper medication, I could sleep again! I cannot tell you how often I’ve heard from other professional women that they went undiagnosed or diagnosed after serious symptoms got worse. The bottom-line: no new mom is immune to PPD. To make the transition to motherhood all about crib sets and pink or blue knit hats sets women up for pain, confusion, and feeling like a failure if they get PPD.”

8) Nobody is defined by their mental illness.

“As a therapist working with people with various mental illnesses, the main thing that most people wished the world would know is that although their mental illness may impact them, it does not define them,” explains Fabiola Paul of Enlightening Counseling and Educational Services. Furthermore, she says the mentally ill are not faking it: “Though not every day is a bad day, on their bad days it can be hard for them to get out of bed, much less complete daily tasks. They also are not crazy or dangerous. This perception perpetuates social stigma; they are people with hopes and dreams as well.” Lastly, “they will not snap out of this. This places blame on the person and assumes that the person just isn’t working hard enough or they do not want to be well.”