On the Invisibility of Mental Illness
I moved to DC two years ago this week, and immediately fell into a deep depression. For months, I was too scared to say the words out loud, because I could so easily imagine how I thought the people around me would react. “What do you have to be depressed about?” That’s exactly what people were going to say to me, I just knew it. I had a job I loved, a cozy apartment, a new city to explore, a relationship that made me happy, financial stability, parents who loved and supported me, and only a quick 5 hour drive home to quell my homesickness. All my boxes were arguably checked.
I wanted to be the bubbly, neon person that people assumed me to be; I was afraid of somehow disappointing others, I was scared that being honest would tarnish their idea of who Halah Flynn is, or was, or will be. Most of all, I didn't want to burden others by worrying about me.
I knew I needed to talk to someone, and I couldn’t make myself do it for a long time. The first person I told begged me to see a professional, and when I refused, I was met with a hypothesis I couldn’t deny, “if the tables were turned, if it were me telling you this, you wouldn’t rest until I made an appointment with a therapist.”
I have always been the nurturing type; I cannot remember a time before I knew in the core of my being that I have an insatiable desire to pour myself out for other people. So to let someone (other than my parents) turn the proverbial tables and nurture me instead was uncharted territory. I made the appointment, and have been seeing the same therapist for 18 months now.
What I found, in the process, is that the people who have stuck by me in the happiest of times were always more than willing to share in my pain. To accept their help, instead of pretending to be strong enough not to need it, has been humbling and transformative to my sense of place in this world.
It is absolutely okay to accept help just as often as you offer it.
It is impossible to ignore how lucky I am — that I can afford therapy, that I was never met with judgment about my mental health, that I have a family and friends who will ask “no, how are you really doing?” I have no idea where I would be if I didn’t have the type of people in my life who made space for me to talk about depression, which is why it’s so important to me to make sure other people around me have that space too.
I hope, in light of the reports this week, people feel encouraged to check on their loved ones — even the strong people who seem fine. The CDC just released a report that suicide rates in the U.S. have risen 30 percent since 1999. Instead of waiting for others to ask for help, extend your hand to pull them up. Take time and effort to establish safe spaces among your friends, family members, colleagues so that people around you have the opportunity discuss how they feel.
In my own experience, I’ve found that talking about my own mental health issues has served as an invitation for others to open up about their needs. I know that approach isn’t for everyone, but I've noticed that it made a difference to the people around me.
You don’t have to be depressed to be a part of this conversation — even if you can’t empathize, you can offer compassion. Help others feel seen and accepted for who they are. Fear of judgement is often a huge part of the reason people don’t talk about how they’re feeling.
Even if you have zero idea where to start, allow me to offer a suggestion: "I'm not sure I know what questions to ask that might be helpful, but I want you to know that I'm here for you."
Most importantly, if you’ve made it this far in my digital monologue, I want to remind you that you are not alone — no matter how much it feels like you are. There is help for you, and it can be as anonymous as you need.
You’re here, you take up space, you matter.
If you or someone you know needs help, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number is 1-800-273-8255. You can also text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741. There are trained professionals and volunteers standing by 24/7, ready to help with whatever you need.