I don’t quite know when it happened, but in recent years our cultural calendar has started to revolve around mini holidays. On top of the usual Mother’s Day, Father’s Day, Labor Day, Martin Luther King, Jr. Day, etc., suddenly my Instagram and Facebook are flooded with reminders of National Dog Day, National Best Friends Day, National Doughnut Day, and more. It’s no secret that these holidays are far from formal—I swear it’s been National Sister Day at least three times this year—but, for the most past, they are fun excuses to post a cute Instagram story or tag your friends in a Facebook meme.
Sometimes, however, these social media holidays tread into more sensitive territory. Wednesday, October 10, for example, was apparently Mental Health Awareness Day. I say “apparently” because I heard nothing about it until the morning of, when I opened my social media feed to find dozens of reposts and stories emblazoned with #MentalHealthAwarenessDay.
As someone who deals with mental health issues, mental health advocacy is very close to my heart. With that in mind, I refrained from posting anything for Mental Health Awareness Day. While I will be the first to acknowledge that it is impossible to know what is going on behind someone’s profile photo, the sheer number of aforementioned hashtags and posts saying “reach out for help!” and “You are not alone!” made me feel more isolated than ever. My mental illness does not feel or look like curated images of quotes and encouraging emojis and, as compelled as I was to acknowledge the issue, I could not bring myself to represent it as such.
One saying in particular I saw making the rounds on social media was “It’s okay not to be okay.” I’m 100% behind this idea—I even wrote an article for my high school newspaper with that quote as the title. But if we are trying to create a culture in which mental struggles are not seen as weaknesses, why are we insisting on acknowledging these issues through such a clouded lens?
One of the main details that bugged me about the Mental Health Awareness Day deluge was how the majority of the posts I saw were addressed at an ambiguous “you.” Most of the public dialogue about mental health is similarly externalized, spewing statistics, advice, or encouragement to the “other” who needs saving. Here’s the truth, though: Mental health—or lack thereof—is something we all deal with. In other words, it is not something to pass off like a hot potato to someone else. Regardless of what place you are in, the issue belongs to you, as well.
I respect that many individuals are uncomfortable sharing the details of their experience with mental health—opening up can be incredibly difficult, and it is not for everyone. But still, just once, I want to see an acknowledgement that is VSCO-cam free and includes the word “I.” Instead of being a trend for 24 hours, I want to see mental health become something we talk about meaningfully and regularly.
In my experience, the hardest part about struggling with mental health is the sense of being alone. When you are in a dark place, it is so easy to feel like no one sees you, cares about you, or relates to you in any way. The only way I remember that I am not alone is by talking—with my therapist, with some of my close friends, with myself. Not everyone has these resources, which is why the growth of outlets like #Halfthestory and Project HEAL are incredibly important. But even so, the work of a few organizations is not enough. At the end of the day, the onus of this issue is on us.
We cannot vaccinate against mental health issues the same way we can polio or TB—we cannot eradicate it. What we can do is make this world a more hospitable place for honest discussions about mental health. Whether that means confiding in one person or telling the world about what we are dealing with, we all possess the power to help break down the stigma surrounding mental health. It is time for us to collectively harness that power, and to inspire one another towards meaningful, actionable, palpable change. And, most importantly, we need to keep up the conversation 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year.