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The Internet and the Mental Illness Taboo

Let me start this by telling you that I’ve lived with depression and General Anxiety Disorder for five years.

I’m able to talk about it freely now, after years of therapy. But there was a time when I had difficulty admitting my mental illnesses. I thought that I was just being lazy or irrational, sentiments shared by the 14.8 million American adults with depression and the 40 million American adults with an anxiety disorder.

“You just need to sleep some more.”

“You just need to go out more.”

“You’re just in a bit of a rut, it’ll pass.”

“We all get sad, no need to focus on it so much.”

“Being sad doesn’t excuse you from your responsibilities in life.”

“Calm down.”

“You’re being ridiculous.”

“I’ve been through so much worse, and I didn’t get depression.”

These are just a few of the things that people with anxiety and/or depression hear all the time. Not words of support, or encouragement, but words of disqualification and disregard.

Which is probably why so many turn to the internet to find solace in their lives. People make blogs about their daily experiences, some even make YouTube videos, and many join gaming and other communities. People living with mental illness have been able to create safe spaces online so that they can exist as a person with mental illness in a way that the real world has not been able to accommodate.

In fact, it appears as if mental illness has become mainstream online. Just look at Tumblr, or look up “Buzzfeed anxiety” on Google and you’ll be surprised at the results. Thousands of people are embracing their lives with mental illness. But that’s only thousands.

What about the millions with mental illness who haven’t found their place online?

Are they just suffering in silence, feeling as if they’re all alone in this fight? Probably. Especially since it seems as if those who are embracing their mental illness online aren’t as vocal about what’s going on in real life.

In the real world, where we live our lives, mental illness is still not okay to talk about. That needs to change. Mental illness is affecting the lives of millions in the U.S. alone. It’s time that we accept that people are unique and each one of us are going through our own uphill battles. For one it may be depression, for another it may be trying to make it through spring quarter at Stanford.

Mental illness has not escaped Stanford; the bubble has not been able to keep it out. Yet in this highly competitive, stressful environment, students refuse to acknowledge that they may be living with a mental illness out of fear of what their parents might say, or their professors, or their peers.

But with the proper community and resources, those with mental illness can learn to thrive. Our mental illnesses do not make us weak, they make us strong.

So, if you think you may be living with a mental illness, please talk to an RA, a trusted friend, a parent, or CAPS (650-723-3785 or their website).

And to everyone else, please be supportive to anyone you know with a mental illness, especially as midterms are upon us. Talk with them, and listen to what they have to say. Understand what they’re going through. You don’t need to tell them to snap out of it or it’ll go away soon. Tell them that you’re there for them. Tell them that they are strong.

Mental illness is not a weakness, it is not a made up condition, and it is not something that needs to be kept to the internet.

Contact Arianna Lombard at ariannal ‘at’ stanford.edu.

 

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