We need to give our loved ones with mental illnesses the same love & support we grant to famous musicians.

Quite often in my line of work, I am gifted with one of the most incredible gifts a music therapist, or any person for that matter, could receive: a client’s favorite songs. This may seem small to some. However, this gift affirms their trust in me. This song is usually the key that opens endless doors, and gives me insight into their lives. I hear the melodies and lyrics that uplift them when they’ve fallen. I catch a glimpse of how their music shone through like a ray of sunlight in the darkest days they couldn’t see beyond. I hear the songs that kept them alive when they felt like nothing or no one else could save them. Occasionally, they will credit this to a musician, especially if this musician has been open to the public about experiencing a mental health issue and/or addiction. 

For far too long, countless individuals have kept quiet about experiencing mental health issues, wearing a mask for the world. Over the past decade, musicians from all genres have shared their experiences on struggling with mental health issues in hopes of destigmatizing mental illness. Musicians have been admired for their openness about their experiences: musicians from Demi Lovato to Kanye West, Lady Gaga to Eminem, Tim McGraw to Halsey, and Kristen Bell to Billie Eilish. As artists continue their work in battling the stigma around mental health issues, it is our collective responsibility to treat the individuals who struggle with mental health in our lives with the same love, veneration, and honor that we grant to musicians and other celebrities. 

Millions of people in the U.S. feel the impact of mental illness- directly and indirectly- each year. One in five U.S. adults will experience mental illness; one in twenty-five adults will experience a serious mental illness. Additionally, seventeen percent of youth between the age of 6 to 17 will experience a mental health disorder. Perhaps more startling, suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death for people between the ages of 10 to 34. These statistics can be frightening; not taking them seriously has obvious, devastating outcomes. If you or someone you know is personally grappling with mental health issues, you are not alone. So, how do we offer the people we know the same love and validation we grant to musicians we find most relatable? 

Embrace empathy & validation

We live in a society where we can justify feeling empathetic for a person as long as their circumstances are the worst we’ve heard recently. We can value a struggle as long as we didn’t easily overcome something similar or “worse”. Empathy lessens the chance that our loved ones feel alone in their pain, and strengthens the chance that they’ll be vulnerable enough to reach out for help.  Validation is acknowledging that a person has a feeling; we aren’t obligated to agree that it’s an appropriate feeling. However, giving our loved ones a chance to realize that we acknowledge what they’re feeling can give them encouragement to accept that feeling, and then, forgive and release it.

Resist toxic positivity 

Positive vibes only! It could be worse. But you’re such an amazing person, don’t be sad! We’ve adopted the narrative that relies solely on “what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger” and “digging deep” will get us through. Yet, our national suicide rate surpasses our homicide rate.  Accept that this is a flawed logic. Mental illnesses are scientific, physiological illnesses, and need to be treated as such in order for wellness to be achieved.

Relinquish the idea of a timeline or finish line; recovery is not linear

There is no timeframe for recovery. In fact, certain mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, ebb and flow for many years depending on several factors such as biological, environmental, and situational.  Believing that your loved one should be better in a few weeks or months can set everyone up for extreme disappointment. Resolve to love and respect the person in your life through each part of the recovery — when they progress and when they regress. Sometimes, a person with a mental illness feels unworthy and toxic to their environment. Consequently, they may pull away to protect people that they are hurting as they feel that the symptoms of their illness are out of their control.  This is when love becomes a choice; it can be painful at times. Choosing to love someone who acts or feels unlovable can be part of what helps them see that they are valued and worthy. 

Remember: They are still the same person you have always loved

Even in the heights of their illnesses, people with mental illnesses are not different people. Our feelings and our circumstances can compel us to believe the person we love is now a stranger. Mental illnesses are illnesses, and can change a person’s circumstances and personalities.  But they are the same person you have always loved, and they need you to see that person in them—even when they can’t see themselves clearly.

For the individuals who love and validate a person with a mental illness; you are seen and you are heard. You are admired and appreciated.

Morgan Nunberg, MT-BC/L