I was in my second year of college when my first major bout with depression hit. It was 2006 and at the time, I had never heard about depression, anxiety, or really mental health at all. I didn’t have the language to articulate what I was going through to the people around me, and they didn’t know how to ask. I felt lost and alone. I would travel home as much as possible and dread the journey back at the end of the weekend — away from my sense of safety, and back into what felt like a world of isolation. I had a strong community in college, among which, a handful of very close friends, but I couldn’t find the words to let them know what I was going through. More and more, I was feeling like they wouldn’t miss me if I left. Desperate to get out of the hole I was in, I started to lay the groundwork to transfer to a new college. I had convinced myself I could somehow leave this feeling behind if I were just in a new town.
Then the people around me stepped in.
First, it was my dad. Though our bond was strong, he was not someone I was accustomed to connecting with on an emotional level at the time. He saw that I was struggling and gently reminded me that while he would support my decision no matter what, my mind would stay with me no matter where I was. A new physical setting would not get me out of the hole that I felt trapped in. This helped me to realize that what I was dealing with was my mental health, even though I didn’t have those words.
Next, it was a close friend. When I shared with him that I was thinking about leaving, he organized a gathering with our friends. Though the tone was celebratory, he pulled me aside to let me know that each person here would miss me if I was gone. He shared that while he didn’t know exactly what I was going through, he cared about me and felt that there was more for me here than I knew, including this community of people. This helped me to realize that I wasn’t alone, even in the moments that I felt so much so.
Now, ten years into my career in mental health advocacy, I think back on these experiences with deep gratitude. Despite the overall lack of awareness and language around mental health at that time, my community stepped in to show me that they cared for me in the ways that they knew how to. And they changed my life for the better with these small, yet deeply profound actions.
They were not mental health experts. They didn’t know exactly what to say. But their exact words are not what have stuck with me for all of these years. Instead, it just mattered that they reached out and said something, anything, to let me know that they could see me. They showed me, in their own ways, that they cared about me and that what I was going through mattered to them – that I mattered to them. Here I sit, more than 15 years later, remembering exactly how they made me feel at that time, and it fills my heart.
Today, the conversation around mental health is so much bigger and growing every day. Each of us has the power to elevate the language around mental health and change the culture within our communities so that no one is silently suffering like I was, and like so many others do. Here are some ways that you can positively impact the culture around mental health in your community:
- Get familiar with V-A-R®, Active Minds’ everyday tool for everyday conversations that helps to facilitate meaningful connections in a casual, accessible way.
- Sign up for, and refer a friend to myala, a self-tracking app that helps to foster human connection.
- Share your story, in the way that’s right for you: With a trusted friend or loved one, with your community, or even with Active Minds through our blog, Behind the Backpacks, or Send Silence Packing®.
- Consider letting someone know that you’re there for them and that you care about them, in whatever way is right for you. You may be the person who changes the whole trajectory of their lives for the better with this simple, yet brave and revolutionary act.
Each seemingly small action can make a major difference in the lives of those you care about, and those you may not even know. Keep showing up for your community in whatever you can, and for more ideas of how to do so in your everyday life, check out Active Minds’ list of daily actions in honor of Mental Health Month. Let’s continue this work beyond May, and continue to uplift those around us and let them know that they’re never alone.