The Person Standing Next to You has a Mental Illness.

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How many times have we heard the phrase “Oh my God I’m gonna kill myself!” uttered by someone who was only making a dramatic statement about being stressed or exasperated?

How many times have you said it? How many times have you joked with your friends about it? How many times have you made light of serious mental health issues, like calling someone bipolar or psycho or claiming to be OCD about keeping your room clean?

Probably more times than you think.

And have you ever thought about how it affected the people around you at the time? Like the girl sitting at the table next to you or the boy behind you in line at Starbucks? Or maybe even your close friend?

When I was a freshman in high school, my world started to implode. I started cutting; I couldn’t focus in school and I constantly thought about killing myself.

But you would never know that looking at me.

On the outside, I was the girl who was always laughing and joking with her friends, who was always smiling, never letting on about the internal struggle she was facing.

I was sure I was alone in my plight. My friend joked about slitting her throat before a midterm. I laughed and wondered how much of a freak she’d think I was for actually wanting to kill myself. My friend Kathy was a lot like me, in more ways than I knew at the time. She was always joking around, and every day she had a new corny joke to tell me. We made sarcastic remarks together and then we would bust into laughter. She was one of the best parts of my day. And I had no idea what was really going on underneath the seemingly happy exterior.

In January of 2012 Kathy hung herself in her room.

The next morning, my mom broke the news to me, and I didn’t believe it. There was no way she could have killed herself; just yesterday we were laughing and joking around in the cafeteria. But just like me, her inner world was imploding and she never let on.

The months that followed were filled with confusion, anger, grief and unbearable sadness. I developed an eating disorder to cope. I was spiraling deeper and deeper into the darkness. My class bonded, and we all shared with each other our struggles with self-harm, depression, and eating disorders. We were all struggling this whole time, but no one talked about it until one of our own did the thing so many of us had thought of doing ourselves. I felt less alone. The people around me who seemed so shallow before, who seemed without problems, actually knew what I was going through.

Suddenly everyone became vocal about suicide awareness, tweeting suicide hotlines and sharing posts on Facebook about the warning signs. We stopped making jokes about suicide. It seemed like everyone was eager to raise awareness.

By the time a year had passed, the statuses, shares and posts had dwindled down to nothing.

Why does this always happen? We wait until someone kills themselves to start the discussion about mental illness and suicide awareness. Typically a few months pass and the discussion ceases. We all share a post so that we don’t feel as if we did nothing. We don’t acknowledge our own experiences because we are ashamed. Most of the time, we don’t even add a caption.

Since the topic of mental illness and suicide is so taboo in our society, it’s no wonder that people are hesitant to reach out for help. It is rare to hear of someone standing up and saying “I have this mental illness; you are not alone.” Or “I have tried to kill myself; I survived and you can too.” It is perfectly understandable why. We think, what if people judge me? What if future employers see this about me? What if potential love interests see it and lose interest? What if nobody stands with me?

We shame people with mental illnesses. Every time we joke about mental illness, we silence someone. We make it harder for a person struggling with suicidal thoughts to reach out for help. As a person with a metal illness, when we hear our peers joking about killing themselves over a homework assignment or making light of serious mental illnesses, it amplifies the feeling that we are freaks, that nobody will understand us, that we will be judged and that we will remain isolated.

When you call someone that you don’t like a psycho, a person who has actually experienced psychosis feels horrible about themselves.

When you joke about being “OCD” about keeping your room clean, someone who has OCD hears you, and thinks no one will ever understand or take them seriously.

When I heard my coworkers joking about bulimia and self-induced vomiting last week, I felt like a total freak and a total outsider. Despite being in a good place in my recovery and having a good support system around me, I felt horrible about myself. My four-year long struggle, the thing that took so much from me and my family, the thing that takes the lives of so many, was the punchline of their joke.

The stigma, fear and ignorance surrounding mental illnesses is reinforced by the media. If you get your information from mainstream media, you probably believe every person with schizophrenia is a killer, people with eating disorders are vain and people with depression can “snap out of it.” Most people still use the word “bipolar” to describe someone who changes their mind a lot or has normal mood swings.

The only way to stop this stigma is to educate people. Unfortunately, many people don’t acquire this knowledge until they are required to because mental illness has entered their life, either through themselves or a family member. Because of the shame and stigma, these people are hesitant to share what they have learned.

My private, all-girls high school had plenty of time for assemblies on bullying, women’s empowerment, and writing in code, but not one assembly that addressed mental health despite having a member of their student body die by suicide. Why? Does it take away from the prestige of the school to discuss some things? Will funders be more hesitant to donate if it is acknowledged that mental illness exists in the school? Would parents hesitate to send their daughters to the school in the future? Would the school be blamed for the student’s death?

I can only imagine that when Kathy heard people around her, including our friends, casually joking about suicide, she felt exactly as I did: alone, misunderstood, silenced and like an outsider. I can sympathize with the shame she must have felt, and I know all too well the incredible amount of energy it takes to act like you’re okay when you aren’t.

I never told Kathy what was going on in my life because I didn’t want to ruin our carefree, jokes-only friendship. Had I been honest, maybe she would have felt safe enough to be honest with me.

My name is Taylor.

I am no longer suffering from, but am simply living with and managing bipolar disorder and anxiety, and I am recovering from an eating disorder.

I have lived through my darkest hours when I didn’t think it was possible to live through them. I have suffered immensely. I have done things I am not proud of in an effort to cope and to escape. I have experienced dark depression and crippling anxiety. I have a lot of scars. I have cried at the dinner table.

However, I have also gotten out of bed when I thought I couldn’t. I have gone to jobs crying and hyperventilating, but I have gone. I forced myself to eat hundreds of meals because I know that’s what’s good for me. I have waited in agony to feel okay again, and now I finally do.

I am here to tell you that you are not alone.

You are not a freak.

Someone else’s cruel and ignorant words do not define you.

You are an incredible, brave and strong human being. You are worthy of everything that is good in this world.

Do not be afraid to reach out for the help that you deserve. Do not be afraid to ask for what you need.

There is an end to this pain.

There is life beyond this pain and struggle, and you need to be alive to see it.


Relephant Reads:

Tackling the Stigma of Mental Health in the South Asian Community.

The Stigma Around Mental Illness is Hurting All of Us.


Author: Taylor Simpson

Apprentice Editor: Pavita Singh/Editor: Catherine Monkman

Image: Sakiryildirim/Deviantart

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Taylor Simpson

Taylor Simpson is an 18-year-old college student who enjoys writing, drawing and fighting the stigma against mental illness.

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anonymous Apr 1, 2016 5:31pm

You are an incredibly strong and brave young woman to let yourself be vulnerable enough to share what is deep inside you. I know the kind of pain and suffering you have gone through, have struggled with it for over 40 years and so have my own children in their individual ways. Once I decided to stop hiding and share my story I found it gave many others the courage to do so too. They thanked me for being honest and I am thanking you also. You will make a difference in the life of many and possibly save the lives of some who are suffering deeply and think they are so alone and different. I believe there are more people who have 'mental health issues' than those who do not. It does need to be talked about and taught about as if it were any other illness. I wish you well in life, keep sharing yourself and please also try to experience some alternative, holistic ways of healing like yoga, meditation and reiki because these can assist you in self-healing. You are a beautiful and caring soul. Many blessings for you and peace always.

anonymous Mar 15, 2016 9:13am

Thank you for having the courage to share your story. Stay strong and embrace the support of my prayers.

anonymous Mar 15, 2016 5:15am

Thank you Taylor, from a Mom in the midst of coping, hoping, trying to understand my own daughter suffering through, bipolar, anxiety, depression and borderline. A new understanding a painful reality.

    anonymous Mar 24, 2016 6:49am

    My prayers are with your daughter and your family. Keep fighting, the darkness doesnt last forever, and all pain is temporary.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 4:37pm

Taylor, thank you for writing about mental illness and being strong enough to share your own struggles. You cannot know how your words have touched my heart. I hope one day I have the courage to share how mental illness has impacted my life and the life of those I love dearly. Keep on, keepin' on. All my love, thank you.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 2:37pm

Go girl! Thanks for sharing your experience, lots of love.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 11:37am

Taylor, your article hits all the points I’ve learned taking the NAMI Family-to-Family course. I am glad that you are well and I am very glad that you put all this down in writing. I’m forwarding it on to lots of people. Thank you!

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 9:36am

Taylor, thank you for being so brilliantly brave. You have made a difference and your words will reach far and wide.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 9:20am

Thank you Taylor for such a beautiful article. As a former Mental Health Nurse with the adolescent population I remember encouraging my clients to share their journey with others. Your voice helps to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental illness. Your voice reminds us that seemingly innocent comments, both positive and negative, can have a profound effect on others. Thank you for sharing your journey and being an advocate!

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 9:08am


Thank you so much for sharing your story. We all need to be more aware of mental illness. Learn that we never know what our words can do to another human being. I know for myself I have said things without realizing what I said out of habit and ignorance. I have dealt with depression my own self as an adult as a result of things in my past as well as physical changes. Keep sharing. I will definitely share as well. We are imperfect human beings that has let society tell us how we should feel. Again thank you for sharing. Keep living he simple life and enjoy everyday as the present as it is intended to be.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 9:07am

Taylor. Beautifully written and point so well made. Thank you for being vulnerable with your personal story and sharing. You helped me in my own struggle and will strengthen many others! God bless you.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 9:02am

Thank you. You echoed my heart for the last 30 plus years…

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 8:54am

I agree completely and unfortunately people see strength as healthy and happy, but we can do that on autopilot. Strength is surviving, overcoming, and coping with obstacles- either physical, mental, or emotional. We are stronger than we think and work too hard at appearing “normal” to avoid a label.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 8:45am

Taylor, thank you. Your words bring incredible comfort to me for reasons I'd rather not describe. But I am so grateful I took the time to read elephant journal today. I cut and pasted the ending of your message and I will be printing and posting it on my bathroom mirror so I when I wake up every day I am reminded, inspired by you. Thank you.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 8:38am

Thank you, Taylor, for sharing your story, feelings, failures and victories.

I take my hat off to you!

After a dear colleague commited sucide 10 years ago I don’t dare to call people “shizophrenic” any more – a tiny lesson learned from a colleague who never seemed to be in a bad mood.

Never judge a book by its cover.

anonymous Mar 14, 2016 7:53am

Thank you for sharing!

anonymous Mar 13, 2016 8:09pm

Taylor, I hope you can see these comments.
Your article is beautiful. And brought me to tears.
Thank you for sharing this.