Speaking Openly About Mental Health Isn’t Brave, It’s Responsible – By Mark Freeman

speaking up

Speaking openly about mental health isn’t brave.

It’s normal. It’s healthy. It’s responsible.

Talking about stuff in your brain is no different than talking about stuff going on with any other body part. Talking about improving your mental health and fitness is no different than talking about improving your physical health and fitness. Swapping techniques on how to do difficult exercises is the same whether it’s a CBT exercise or a crossfit WOD. It’s all about health.

Speaking about mental health isn’t brave. It’s the stuff happening in your brain. Your brain is an organ. It’s a fact. It’s happening. Big deal. It’s nothing special to talk about. People like me who spend all of their time talking about mental health are really just the mental health equivalent of that sweaty guy at the gym in a tank-top that won’t stop talking about gainz. I don’t think anybody would tell that guy he’s so brave for speaking openly about his biceps.

So not only do I think it’s weird when people say that speaking openly about mental health or mental illness is brave, but I also think it’s stigmatizing. After several years of speaking openly about mental health issues, I would say that’s the only stigma I’ve encountered. It’s stigmatizing because you’re going up to somebody and telling them the thing they’re doing is risky and dangerous, that it’s not a normal thing to do. And that’s what stigma is all about — labeling something or somebody as separate and abnormal.

When somebody says something is brave, they’re reacting to their own fears and judgments. They think it’s scary and they dump that fear on you and expect you to carry it as well. Telling somebody that sharing a story is brave is like saying, “Wow, I wouldn’t have done something as dangerous as picking up that grenade and throwing it away. You could blow your hand-off and get shrapnel in your eye.”

At first, when I would hear people say that being open about mental health challenges was brave, I thought those people were just being silly — these stories aren’t grenades, they’re not dangerous to handle. They’re just stories about things that happened and things I do. It’s like narrating my grocery list for the week (lots of beans, lots of chocolate). But now I think of it in a slightly different way: now I’ve accepted that some of these stories might be grenades. They might not seem dangerous to me because I know how to handle them and have practiced handling them. But to others they could be dangerous. But that still doesn’t make it brave, it’s just responsible. There’s something dangerous lying around and I know how to pick it up and dispose of it, so I do. It’s a thing we can all do because we don’t want others to get hurt by that grenade. We could run away from it, but somebody else might just stumble on it and not be as fast or as experienced as us. So throwing it out of the way is something we do, because we can. It’s common sense, not courage. Privileged, not risky. Maybe there’s danger involved, but there’s danger in everything, and that’s why we practice and we have the support of other grenade throwers, other people willing to speak up and practice grenade throwing alongside us (people like you).

If we want it to be normal to talk about mental health, we have to start treating it as normal. If we want to see less stigma around mental health, that starts with ourselves and making it normal in our lives.

If honesty about something so common is dangerous, we need to practice honesty about mental health more, so that we’re capable of handling the risk. If it’s truly dangerous, avoiding it will only make it more dangerous.

From what I’ve seen so far in the real world, professionally and personally, most people are super excited to have somebody around that can identify mental illness grenades lying nearby and throw them out of the way so they don’t explode in anybody’s face. I definitely prefer to be around people who can recognize something nasty and pick it up and throw it out of the way and create something more awesome in its place.

Please, go forth and do incredibly normal things like talking about the actions you take each day to maintain and improve your mental health.

Flex those biceps.

~~~

Writer: Mark Freeman

Mark is the Executive Director of @ and Editor of Everybody Has A Brain. You can learn more about him through his site here or via Twitter.

21 responses to “Speaking Openly About Mental Health Isn’t Brave, It’s Responsible – By Mark Freeman

  1. Thank you for putting into words something I was trying to form into context only yesterday! Sometimes I feel as though I am being narcissistic in sharing “my Crazy” so openly, but then I try and remember that hearing humor, positivity, and especially honesty in relation to these challenges may help someone else feel less overwhelmed by or alone in their own “issues”. Great post!

    Liked by 2 people

    • Well, I think it should be normal to speak openly about mental health, but unfortunatelly it’s very often really “just” brave. Your comment about “sharing the Crazy” reminded me, how my cousin asked me, why I need to advertise that I have depressions, because I write a blog about it. She wasn’t able to understand, that I’m not trying to feel important, I just want to help people understand their own problems or the problems their loved ones have.

      Liked by 4 people

      • Absolutely! If others can see people like us discussing our “Crazy” without shame, and even with humor, it might help them not feel alone or stigmatized, and will hopefully encourage more people to get more information and seek help. 🙂

        Liked by 3 people

  2. The start of the article I dislike cos it made me feel bad n think will do for many people. When one first gets ill it’s hard to open up to anyone.
    When in recovery though it does become the norm bt that takes time, years.! !
    It is now the norm for me as I know more about my dx n triggers etc.
    also it’s hard task to find people you can talk to on a level like that u have to trust enough to do so.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Reblogged this on bdlheart and commented:
    Mark Freeman talks about the issue of mental health which many are afraid to discuss. I find it liberating to share if only through the writen word. Gradually, I’m telling my story to a few trusted individuals. Each time a weight is lifted from my shoulders. The more we talk the more attention we bring to mental health the healthier we will all be.

    Liked by 2 people

  4. It is important to normalize mental illness, as it is exactly that, just like any other physical ailments. It is a normal human experience. I do believe that it takes more strength and courage to talk about anything that is not easily understood compared to something that is visible and measurable. I believe it requires a lot more heart to speak about mental illness as it is often under the surface and hidden from any instruments/technological devices we normally use in diagnosing physical illnesses. For these reasons, I think there is a level of braveness, certain amount of strength and courage to seek help for your own brain, and to speak about it.

    Liked by 3 people

  5. I loved this! Thank you for opening my mind even more about telling my personal story dealing with mental health issues. I am dealing with a grenade so-to-speak right now, so it was really great for me to read this. It was a gentle reminder that by sharing my story, even in pieces at a time, I may be able to provide hope to others. It can be very difficult, however, to be your authentic self at first. I am blogging anonymously at the moment, however, I hope to share my entire story someday.

    Liked by 4 people

    • I hope to hear your story one day. I believe that there’s much to learn from people who face their health challenges head on, whether it’s physical or mental health issues. This same message I tell my loved one, who is just beginning his journey with his recovery. Best wishes to you.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. Brilliant! Thank you for so eloquently saying what I believe wholeheartedly and try to practice in my daily life. I still struggle sometimes with the stigma that of my own making thinking I’m crazy…fewer & farther between than before I was diagnosed Bipolar II and immediately after. God this article really helps me put all this in perspective. Deep gratitude, jules

    Liked by 3 people

  7. Reblogged this on Mamamaitri and commented:
    “People like me who spend all of their time talking about mental health are really just the mental health equivalent of that sweaty guy at the gym in a tank-top that won’t stop talking about gainz. I don’t think anybody would tell that guy he’s so brave for speaking openly about his biceps.”

    Egg-zackely. J xo

    Liked by 2 people

  8. I agree with you. Sometimes I am surprised when I put down something that I feel neutral about (like your grocery shopping list) and someone else thinks of it as a big deal. I like how you talk about it in this post.

    Like

  9. I like what you’re saying and I agree that it needs to be spoken of openly and destigmatized. However, I think what’s brave about speaking openly regarding mental health is the willingness to risk social/personal and workplace discrimination by being candid. Discrimination is subtly insidious and still very prevalent, in some environments more than others.

    Liked by 1 person

  10. I think that people get to decide for themselves what they feel is brave. This move to get rid of “you’re so brave” when talking about mental illness or disability, etc., as a move to destigmatize them is understandable, but I think it does harm even while it tries to help/normalize. There are people who decide to speak up because they want to be brave, who decide to be brave, who, in standing up in the face of stigma, are being brave. I agree that it’s responsible to discuss publicly, but I also think that it places an awful onus on people who may not be in a place where they have the emotional or other resource wherewithal to speak publicly/openly, burdening them then with further shame for being unable to live up to this supposed responsibility.

    Liked by 2 people

  11. Pingback: Talking about mental health openly – responsible. healthy. necessary. | Mental Floss·

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