Health · Mental Health

What does Mental Illness look like?

If you were asked to draw someone with mental illness, what would they look like?

There are many stereotypes surrounding mental health. Often people imagine that those suffering with mental illness are scruffily dressed folk who come from broken or abusive families, who left school without any qualifications and fell into the wrong crowds where they got into drugs and alcohol, or who smoke weed and live off benefits. It is true that a percentage of people who struggle with their mental health may tick one or more of the stereotyped boxes, but that is because they make up a percentage of the national population, just like everyone else.

As with most stereotypes, there is an element of truth behind the prejudice. Research has shown that certain drugs and/or excessive alcohol intake significantly increase the risk of developing anxiety and/or depression, alongside other mental illnesses. It is also true that a difficult upbringing, childhood trauma and relationship struggles can also make an individual more vulnerable to later mental health difficulties. However, there is also a HUGE percentage of the general population struggling with their mental health for less than obvious reasons.

Mental illness, just like the Common Cold or Hayfever, doesn’t discriminate when it strikes – it can affect anyone, at any point in their lives. It doesn’t pick its victims by analysing their financial or political situation, looking at whether or not they’re young, old, heterosexual, homosexual, British, vegetarian or anything else. It strikes whoever, whenever and at whatever point in their lives.

I think that some of the fear about voicing the fact that I have struggled with my mental health comes from the worry that other people will instantly judge me for something that I’m not. Those who know me are aware that I’ve been lucky with regard to my home life, upbringing and financial situation; I had a happy childhood, an excellent education and great friends. On paper, I’m a student who has achieved highly at a prestigious University, who throws herself into extra-curricular activities and who has a wide range of skills gained through previous employment. However, if a stranger were to leaf through my medical notes, things wouldn’t be quite so attractive. Without knowing me, who would actively look to be friends with, date or even employ, someone who has a list of mental health diagnoses, who has spent time in a psychiatric ward and who has been treated under mental health services for the last six years? Suddenly, when you add this into the mix, the initial impression changes somewhat (and that’s speaking as someone who knows me very well!).

We’re all guilty of formulating impressions or opinions of others before we know the whole truth and more often than not, they’ll lead us to shy away from things that we’ve merely misjudged. (Obviously, if we’re walking down a dark alley alone and bump into a stranger, these instant impressions can be pretty helpful, so don’t dismiss them entirely!). However, mental illness isn’t always that obvious and often, those who are struggling the most, are those who wear the biggest smiles and who seem to be on top of everything, whilst going out of their way to help other people. Unlike physical illnesses, it’s easier to disguise a mental health problem and brush off the symptoms with excuses. It’s important though, to look behind closed doors and acknowledge not only that which is on the

However, mental illness isn’t always that obvious and often, those who are struggling the most, are those who wear the biggest smiles and who seem to be on top of everything, whilst going out of their way to help other people. Unlike physical illnesses, it’s easier to disguise a mental health problem and brush off the symptoms with excuses. It’s important though, to look behind closed doors and acknowledge not only that which is on the surface but the potential struggle which is being hidden away.

16 thoughts on “What does Mental Illness look like?

  1. I finally managed to make it here! 🙂 And have had a look through. It is clear that you are an amazing person with outstanding levels of intelligence and self-awareness. To open up and talk about mental illness is very, very brave and admirable. There are so many people suffering from mental illness from all walks of life, as you righrly said. But it is thanks to those who speak out that things are slowly but surely changing. If you ever need someone to talk to, I’m here! And I look forwards to getting to know you more in the future, it is evident that you will go far 🙂 xx

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    1. Thank you so so much for your kind words – you’ve made my day. I really really hope that other people can resonate with it. I know each experience is so unique and I don’t want to pretend to be a master or to understand each person’a struggle, but if I can help just one person, it’ll all be worthwhile. Xx

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      1. You’re very welcome! That’s true, but having suffered from mental health issues, perhaps that does mean that you have a greater ability to empathise. And just being a shoulder to lean on means so much, even if you’ve not had the same life experiences-i think a lot of helping others is about listening really, even if you haven’t walked in the exact same shoes 🙂 You’re very admirable, but remember to seek help when you need it also!xx

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      2. Yes, if mental illness has taught me anything, it’s the value of listening and really going down into the hole with the person rather than looking from afar. I guess every cloud has a silver lining, right?! Thank you so much – don’t hesitate to drop me a message if you ever want to chat xx

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      3. I enjoy doing it and it’s nice to share with other people who might benefit. I guess it makes you think twice because everything is so open and public once it’s posted but overall very good! I just don’t know how to broaden my viewers and connect more! Xx

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      4. To be honest with you-touch wood!- I’ve only ever had supportive feedback, and I’ve never seen anyone be trolled or anything unkind be written. I suppose that’s because the majority of people only look at WordPress because they’re supportive of other people and want to share their own views.

        I had that problem for a long time. I think the key is not to get too disheartened. And if you keep commenting and reading other people’s blogs, loads of people will return that. Do you use tags in your posts? Xx

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      5. So far I’ve decided not to publish it on my personal page because of (I think) shame or embarassment, or the fact that it might have some effect on my career. Perhaps at some point!
        Absolutely, it’s very early days. I honestly value your support so much. I am using tags, yes! xxx

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  2. This was very insightful, because as you say mental health isn’t something that is seen, therefore outsiders assume that everything is okay, unlike a more obvious physical disability. Great post and I’m really loving your blog!

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  3. It takes courage to not just deal with mental illness, but also speak about it and spread awareness. Kudos to you for opening up. More stories need to be heard for people to let go off misconceptions related to mental illness.

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    1. Thank you so much – I completely agree. It’s taken me a long time to get to this point and I’m still not open enough about my mental health, but every conversation is a step in the right direction!

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