Today is World Mental Health Day, a day devoted to bringing attention to mental illness and its major effects on peoples’ life worldwide. Part of the mission of this day is to advocate for reducing the social stigma associated with mental health issues.
Even as more high-profile celebrities come out with their own stories of depression, anxiety, and other mental health “disorders,” there remains a strong stigma around mental health issues.
The Fears in Speaking Out
In my own experience, I’ve faced two fears in speaking about my mental health struggles and moments of suicidal ideation:
People Will Judge Me
First — and this is a common fear — is that people won’t look at me the same way once they know. If I talk about my struggles with anxiety and depression, about the suicidal moments or the years of struggle with OCD and ADHD, people will think I don’t have my shit together, that I can’t handle the work they hire me to do.
How can I help anyone else if I’m struggling?
Related to this is the fear of bringing shame on my family. What will people think of them?
People Won’t Believe Me
The second fear is less often discussed: it is the fear that people won’t believe me or won’t understand.
I’ll admit that sometimes I wonder if ADHD is an easy scapegoat for my failings. If I doubt it’s realness, how can I expect other people to get it?
Part of what feeds that fear is a comment people have made that I don’t necessarily “look” like someone who struggles with anxiety and depression or who would have a reason to commit suicide.
I have a supportive family and great friends. I’ve achieved great things. I’m “successful” by many metrics. Why would I want to jump out the window?
The Point of Speaking Out
Of course, that’s exactly the point of sharing my experiences. It’s the reason why more successful artists, athletes, and entrepreneurs are coming forward. It’s the reason World Mental Health day exists.
What do people who struggle with “mental health” challenges look like? What type of people are affected by these silent disruptors of life? The answer is all types.
In fact, studies show that the rates of depression among highly successful people may be higher than among the general public.
According to Psychologist Michael Freeman, personality traits often found in entrepreneurs—creativity, extroversion, open-mindedness, and a propensity for risk—are also traits found with depression, ADHD, bipolar disorder, and substance abuse.
Mental health challenges don’t discriminate. They aren’t selective. They can affect all of us. And it’s hard to expect others to understand if we remain secretive about it.
My Commitment: Truth Over Fear
My drive to serve others, to illuminate and speak truth, pushes aside the fear of how I’ll be perceived.
If Michael Phelps and Beyoncé can speak up, so can I.
In fact, I must.
It turns out that the first fear is largely unfounded. Yes, there are people who may judge me. But far more often I hear from people that when I share some of my darker moments, it resonates with them. It helps them know they are not alone.
Rather than hindering my ability to serve, my struggles — and the work I’ve done to navigate and minimize them — has made me more effective. I’ve turned my greatest pains into my purpose, through coaching other high achievers who feel lost, isolated, lonely, and anxious.
My clients don’t doubt me; they are grateful that someone finally gets them. They are amazed by my ability to reflect back the thing they were trying to say but didn’t know how to say. They appreciate that I can see them, beneath their masks.
Helping others has been one of the best ways for me to help myself.
You can’t prevent people from judging, no matter what you say. But you can help someone else by speaking up about your experiences.