An open letter to everyone about mental illness


From: Mark Jacobson
Peer support specialist

To those that don’t understand mental illness: please be patient. Like any other organ, the brain can get sick. When the brain gets sick, it is hard to know where it comes from and why. It is difficult to deal with and only sometimes can we tell the way we function may be a little skewed.

When you have a mental illness, you are not in full control of your brain. When you have a sort of phobia, you have an irrational fear that can be crippling. When you are depressed, you could have the best things in the world, but that will not change that you have difficultly getting up in the morning. When you have schizophrenia, you see and hear things that are not there and, usually, heavy medication is the only way to minimize your symptoms.

Mental illness can often be crippling. Along with the side effects of the illness itself, you have to deal with the side effects of how the people of the world treat you. There is a stigma facing mental illness, making it difficult for people to seek help. Mental illness is oftentimes viewed as something that people fake or isn’t life altering and nobody really understands what it is like to live with a mental illness (or even multiple illnesses) unless they have one.

Please understand this is not something that is easy. As someone who suffers from anxiety and depression, I understand that my thoughts are not always accurate. I understand that my perception of the world is altered because of my mental illness, but that means little to nothing.

Please understand that, like any other disease, this is real and it is a major part of our lives. It is something we must deal with and it is crucial to have a strong support system to get through our daily lives. We constantly deal with the stigma that we are “faking” it or that our illness is not serious — that we need to get over it.

When something is taking over your brain and changing how you behave, perceive the world and feel, it is difficult to understand yourself. I have trouble finding a time in my life when I did not suffer from any sort of mental illness. Mental illness severely alters a person’s life and, sometimes, we just need you to be patient with us.

It is OK if you don’t know exactly how it feels. Be thankful that you do not. But that does not mean that you should write our illness off as something you don’t need to worry about.

Encourage those close to you to worry about their own mental health. Also, don’t be afraid to check up on your own. Anyone can suffer from a mental illness.

For years I questioned if I was living with multiple mental illnesses and struggled to understand why. I didn’t know any better, and it affected the world around me.

Educate yourself about mental health. Understand what happens to a person when they suffer from mental illness. Understand that, though every illness is different, they are all the same in that every single one is serious. We all need to start caring for ourselves more.

We lose loved ones to suicide every minute of every day. Suicide is too common a side effect, and without erasing the stigma and taking mental health seriously, we will only continue to lose more loved ones. They may not be your sister or brother, parent or friend, but they are people, too. As tragic as it is to lose someone because of cancer, it is just as tragic to lose someone to his or her mental illness. Not all who suffer from mental illness commit suicide, but the rate it much too high.

We are not faking. We are not weak. We are strong. We just want to be understood, and for people to understand that mental illness is serious.

Let us know that you care. Take the time to get to know someone in your life battling mental illness. It may be difficult, but know that it is for us as well. Please be patient. Please be kind. Give us all a reason to hope. Hope is the basis upon which foundations are built. Let’s build a stronger foundation together.


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