“What’s wrong with kids these days?” and Other Ignorant Questions of Mental Illness

Without getting into details, mental illness struck a devastating blow to my family last night. I woke up grateful, because I know the situation could have been much worse, but I also woke up terrified, heartbroken, and feeling so incredibly useless to help someone I love.

While the majority of my family has held a similar reaction, one family member, an older “boomer,” decided it was a good time to question: “What’s wrong with kids these days?”

There are so many things wrong with that. Time and time again we’ve tried to educate this person, explain that mental illness is no different than cancer or a chronic illness or a congenital disease. You wouldn’t ask a child with cancer “What’s wrong with you? Get over it.” You wouldn’t tell someone with a missing limb to just grow it back.

Because they can’t.

And just like someone can’t magically regrow an arm, some people can’t make enough serotonin, dopamine, GABA, or whatever else to function at the same level as a neurotypical individual. People suffering through mental illness can’t snap their fingers and feel better. Be better. Because, believe me, if we could, we would.

No one wants to walk around in a cloud of depression. No one wants to feel a crushing weight in their chest every morning as they try to summon the courage to get out of bed. No one wants to feel like a mental scribble of chaos as they navigate the trials of ADHD and the shame that is perpetuated against them on a daily basis. No one wants to shake uncontrollably with anxiety, rationally knowing that their world is okay while their body drenches them with fight or flight.

So, to people that just don’t “get it,” please do us all a favor and educate yourselves. If someone has the patience to try and explain it to you, share articles with you, explain their own hurt, LISTEN. Because you have no idea how unbelievably exhausting, painful, and shame-inducing it can be to try and be your own advocate, try and face down the stigma that still surrounds mental diversity.

And, to me, what is most astounding is how easy it is to educate yourself. The facts are out there. A cursory Google search will give you thousands of articles, videos, infographics, that can help you understand the science and the reality of what people with various mental health issues endure. And the fact of the matter is, unless you suffer from a mental illness, you will never actually understand what it is like to have one. And that’s good. I’m happy for you that you won’t have to endure that burden. But you can understand how it works. You can educate yourself on the scientific workings of it. You can learn the tendencies and behaviors that are characteristic as a result of the disorder. You can research how YOU can be patient, kind, a resource for the person suffering.

Or you can go ahead and continue to be thick-headed and ignorant, the type of person that future generations will one day look back at and say “how could they be so blind? How could they be so insensitive and unwilling to learn?”

Don’t tell someone to pray their illness away. Don’t tell someone to take up exercise or find a hobby. Don’t dismiss someone’s pain by saying it is just “a rough season” in their life. It isn’t a rough season, it is their everyday, and they are asking for support, not a to-do list.

The duty of explaining mental illness, teaching neuronormatives about it, should not be the responsibility of the person battling it out. The mental energy that goes into surviving, putting one foot in front of the other, building a life, is staggering. It is an invisible handicap that we are then shamed for if we talk about it. On top of all that, we often don’t even understand the ins and outs of our disorder ourselves, and there is so much personal education we have to navigate to try and have a clearer picture of who we are and why we experience the things we do. So, again, if someone is willing to teach you, LISTEN. If someone doesn’t have the capacity to educate you, DO YOUR OWN RESEARCH.

Mental illness is hard enough, stop adding one more barrier for us to breakthrough.

Further reading:

https://www.psychiatry.org/patients-families/understanding-mental-disorders

https://www.healthline.com/health/mental-health#statistics

https://www.additudemag.com/ (This is a personal favorite of mine for understanding my own ADHD diagnosis and educating my family about it.)

https://twitter.com/adhd_alien?lang=en Pina makes amazing comics about ADHD. These really helped me feel less alone in my experiences, and are something I regularly share with family members when one in particular resonates.

https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/depression

https://www.psycom.net/living-with-depression

https://www.psychologytoday.com/us

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