"I am human."
This powerful tweet from U.S. sprinter Sha'Carri Richardson expresses so much. It's a reaction to her testing positive for THC, the chemical in marijuana, an acknowledgement of her struggles coping with the death of her biological mother, and a coming to terms with being banned from competing in the Olympic 100-meter race in Tokyo this summer.
It could also be the manifesto of anyone living with a mental health diagnosis.
"I am human."
Richardson tweeted the brief statement on July 1, also apologizing on television by saying that she smoked marijuana after learning that her mother had died.
Her reminder that she's human and that, as a human being, is subject to feeling pain and responding to that pain is an important one for any person or celebrity who has struggled with grief and loss, but also for any of us experiencing mental health challenges.
Too often, many of us see a diagnosis first and a human being second when it comes to mental illness and that reaction keeps us from seeing the unique person who is living with the illness or disorder.
And dehumanizing those who are mentally ill is what keeps stigma, judgement, shame, fear, and intolerance, all the conditions we can do without, alive and well in our communities.
It’s all of our responsibility to put the human back into mental health.
One of the best ways to make this shift in your own thinking is to reach out and connect with people who are living with mental health challenges.
If you know someone, invite them for coffee and see if they are willing to talk about their experiences. If you’re not sure where to start, simply ask: ‘What’s it like to live with X?’ Inserting whatever their illness is fo X.
If you don't know anyone, look for brave souls who talk publicly about their mental health experiences, sharing the highs and lows of their journeys. There are several mental health organizations who host these talks, including NAMI Massachusetts, which has a monthly program called In Our Own Voice that features people sharing their mental health challenges.
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