In a post for The Mighty, Marisa Lancione told the story of a time she sought help for her depression. When she went to counseling services, a counselor told her “Well, you’re dressed nicely today. You don’t look like you’re struggling.” Marisa was wearing a lace pink cardigan with long sleeves to cover up the cuts on her arms. There is no “look” to mental illness. A disheveled appearance isn’t a symptom of depression. However, people have come to expect that those who struggle with their mental health will have a difficult time functioning in society. This assumption hurts people who have high-functioning depression or another mental illness.
We have written about high-functioning depression on this blog before. You can find those posts here and here. Today’s post was inspired by this article from The Mighty. People with high-functioning mental illness can feel stuck between two different groups. They struggle too much to fit in with people who don’t have mental health challenges, but they don’t have the same struggles as people with low-functioning mental illnesses. This makes it challenging for them to ask for help because the people around them may not take their illness seriously.
One misconception is that people with mental health challenges are unable to function in society. This is not true. It is possible for someone to maintain a socially acceptable lifestyle while having suicidal thoughts or experiencing anxiety. This behavior is just an attempt to be part of society while still experiencing challenges. Someone can be very successful and still be struggling with depression. Depression can affect a cheerful, fashionable mother of two even though she is smiling at everyone. The fact is that with mental illnesses, our insides do not always match our outsides. People struggling with depression can be at the peak of fashion and still want to harm themselves.
It is important to remember that there is no “look” to mental illness. Even with physical disorders like eating disorders, appearance isn’t always a symptom. A person struggling with an ED isn’t always going to be skeletal thing, but they are still harming their bodies with certain behaviors. Similarly, a person with anxiety isn’t going to always be hyperventilating or biting their nails. They may be perfectly calm in a situation, but that doesn’t mean that they don’t have anxiety.
You can never judge a book by its cover. If someone needs help because of a mental health challenge, believe them. Mental illnesses do not discriminate by how successful someone is. Every smile can hide a lot of internal struggles.
If you or someone you know is exploring treatment options, see our Resources page to get started. Also try our the Guided Resources tool for hands-on help.