Jenni Chiu's Response To A Stigmatizing Depression Meme Makes A Very Important Point About Mental Illness
When blogger Jenni Chiu came across a stigmatizing depression meme online recently, she couldn't not say something. Not only was the meme — which depicted an outdoors scene labeled "This is an antidepressant" above a picture of an antidepressant pill labeled "This is sh*t" — obviously polarizing to those suffering from mental illness, but it was also promoting the potentially harmful and oversimplified notions that depression can be easily cured with a simple walk in the woods and that medication is inherently bad.
The message struck a nerve with Chiu, who took to Facebook in order to address it and make a very important point about mental illness. There is no one right way to treat these physiological conditions. The Mommy Nani Booboo blogger's reaction post and subsequent video on the subject have since gone viral, being shared more than 28,000 times — and understandably so. Chiu reminds us that the more stigma there is surrounding mental illness, the harder it is for those who need help to actually seek and get that help in the first place. Moreover, there should be no shame in seeking whatever kind of help works for you — whether it involves medication or not. There is no magic, universal trick for beating depression, anxiety, or any other mental illness, and implying as much is irresponsible.
Chiu says in the post and video that she absolutely believes in the restorative powers of nature. However, she is also realistic about limitations in "curing" depression or any other mental illness. In fact, she has firsthand experience on that very point. "I experienced a traumatic even 12 years ago," she shares with Bustle via email. She continues:
Afterward, I was diagnosed with depression, an anxiety disorder, and PTSD. I remember what a difficult decision it was for me to eventually take meds. I felt somehow broken that my body couldn't just somehow fix itself. Pharmaceuticals aren't the answer for everybody, but they definitely saved me. I was unable to function at the time. I wanted to die. Working with my doctor on a cocktail of meds allowed me to function enough to get my therapy sessions, show up for work so I wouldn't lose my job, get enough sleep, etc. It was my life preserver.
The bottom line that Chiu so passionately points out? Depression and anxiety are illnesses — they are more than just "blues" or "a funk" you can shake off. "People tend to ignore the 'illness' part of mental illness. Just like heart disease can run in the family, so can mental illness. Also, trauma can actually change the brain; at least, that's what all my doctors have told me. The brain is an organ. So is the liver. I don't think many people would tell someone with liver failure to just 'shake it off.'" As someone with a history of mental illness in her family, I also wish more people grasped this.
Of course, the meme with which Chiu took so much offense isn't the only way people stigmatize depression (and, particularly, treatment options for depression) without realizing the gravity of what they're doing or saying. Chiu readily admits she is guilty of this herself, explaining, "I'm a bit on the 'crunchy' side, so a lot of unhelpful things that people say are things that I've said to myself in the past. 'Get more exercise,' 'Eat better,' 'Meditate' ... And while those things are definitely tools that help me, I have to be functioning enough to be able to get myself to do them." For those living with more severe depression disorders and mental illnesses, such advice may not be enough, and can foster a sense of alienation. This includes what Chiu calls the "bootstrap mentality" — you know, "Suck it up," "Life is hard for everybody," "Be grateful for what you have," and the like. "Most of the time, that just makes the person who is suffering feel more like a failure. In some cases, it can be dangerous," she says.
The important thing to take away from Chiu's post is this: We are all brilliantly different human beings, and there's so much beauty in those differences. But they also mean that what works for one of us may not work for another. "There is no one-size-fits-all as far as treatment options go," Chiu emphasizes. "Everbody and every brain is different, and no one should be ashamed of trying to take steps to live a fulfilling life."
Image: Christopher Campbell/Unsplash