Just because someone looks “fine” doesn’t mean they actually are.
Misconceptions about mental illness are unfortunately alive and well. One of the most prevalent ideas is that it’s obvious when someone struggles with issues like depression or anxiety, and that if you look “normal,” you must be. But as we saw with these photos of a woman before and after a panic attack, a cheerful appearance doesn’t automatically mean someone is not mentally ill. Now, a meaningful Twitter campaign is spreading that crucial message during Depression Awareness Week, which lasts from April 18-24.
The depression awareness organization Blurt launched the #WhatYouDontSee movement, which aims to show that “depression can hit anyone, at any time, regardless of age, gender, and personal circumstance,” says a Blurt blog post announcing the campaign. “It’s an invisible illness: you can’t tell from the outside who is suffering.” Even though that’s undeniably true, some people open up about their depression only to get reactions like “you don’t look depressed.” Those kinds of statements exacerbate the stigma and make depression seem like something that needs to be hidden.
In truth, no one should feel ashamed about their depression. You wouldn’t blame yourself for getting cancer or tell yourself to just get over pneumonia, and depression’s invisibility doesn’t make it any less of a devastating illness. While people often associate depression with sadness, that’s only one of the major symptoms. Others include feeling “empty,” losing interest in hobbies, a lack of appetite, and decreased energy, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA).
If you experience at least five symptoms for a two-week period, that’s a major depressive episode, says the ADAA. Around 15.7 million adults 18 and over had at least one major depressive episode in 2014, according to the National Institute of Mental Health. That’s 6.7 percent of adult Americans, making depression one of the most common mental illnesses. Unfortunately, its prevalence doesn’t mean it’s as understood as it should be.
It’s impossible to diagnose someone with depression—or to do the opposite and know that they’re fine—just by looking at them. To spread that message, Blurt asked people to explain #WhatYouDontSee when you look at someone with depression. “We knowing going ‘public’ about your condition can feel scary, but sharing your experiences so boldly and visibly helps others and directly challenges the stigma around poor mental health,” they explain.
Here are some of the incredibly brave people putting their depression out into the world.
#WhatYouDontSee the feeling of overwhelming emptiness and the act you have to put on to pretend you are excited by things in life.
— FranklyMsShankly (@SeeEmilyyPlay) April 21, 2016
#WhatYouDontSee is the brain fog + memory loss that make it very difficult (and embarrassing at times) to hold a conversation or do your job
— Gem (@ThisMyGem) April 21, 2016
#WhatYouDontSee the shame that comes with having depression and anxiety. It feels almost too cliche. (I was scared to tweet this)
— Julia Wilde (@Julia_SCI) April 20, 2016
— The Blurt Foundation (@BlurtAlerts) April 19, 2016
#WhatYouDontSee are those days when I get home and just go straight to bed, because I’ve looked “fine” for hours and have nothing left in me
— Laura Wright (@hippocastanum) April 18, 2016
#WhatYouDontSee the feeling of loneliness even when surrounded by many people.
— Alessandra (@alesandrana) April 20, 2016
— ⭐⭐️ Kelly⭐️⭐️ (@Anotherkellylou) April 18, 2016
— +Chloe Whyte+ (@Chloe_Whyte) April 18, 2016
— Amy Trevaskus (@Amytrevaskus) April 18, 2016
#WhatYouDontSee is the terror that someone might notice something is wrong, and the pain when no one does.
— Ben (@BenTheEpicure) April 18, 2016
#WhatYouDontSee Being depressed sort of feels like watching your life on a TV screen rather than actually being a part of it
— Rachel (@OpenMindMH) April 18, 2016
If you or someone you know is struggling with depression, you can reach out to one of the many resources listed here. If you’re in need of more immediate assistance, you can called the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1 (800) 273-8255.