Anna Guyton and Ianna Williams
It was late August, and although school was in session, the air smelt of summer. I was 15, aimlessly wandering through the courtyard of a new school- one where I didn’t know a soul. I noticed her eating alone on a concrete staircase, hot from direct sunlight. I didn’t know her name, but I vaguely recognized her from my theatre class, and remembered someone calling her by the nickname “bubbles”. Her real name, I would come to learn, was Ianna. She would soon become my first friend as a highschooler, as she was also a new student and in search of someone to sit with at Drama Club. We’ve since spent the last three years unintentionaly morphing into the same person, from extracurriculars to family dramas.
Ianna is an incredibly kind, well mannered, freckle faced artist. She seems to radiate an aura of light in all of her endeavors. The recording of the following interview might have sounded nonsensical to an outsider, as Ianna and I excitedly jump from topic to topic, occasionally speaking over one another in the friendliest of ways. What has been transcribed, while edited for practical purposes, is as close to our conversation as possible.
Anna: Its mental health awareness month! What an appropriate time to be having this conversation. When I asked you what you wanted to have a conversation about, and you told me mental health, I was actually very surprised. People are generally very hesitant to talk about mental health. I’m hesitant to talk about it. Why do you think this reluctancy exists?
Ianna: I think it’s because mental illness doesn’t tend to present itself outwardly. While it can be visible, there are less physical signs and that makes it difficult to talk about. I also think, with men in particular, it’s a side effect of toxic masculinity. They don’t want to admit to themselves – or anyone else – that they are struggling with something they perceive as a weakness.
Anna: Do you feel that there is a stigma surrounding mental illness? What does this stigma entail? Why/where does it come from?
Ianna: Yeah, 100 percent. The controversy of whether mental illness exists or not is the primary example. Its less so with disorders like schizophrenia and more of an issue with things like depression. I feel like the visibility of the disorders plays a role in the stigmatization. In the people I’ve encountered, depression is less talked about and more taboo. It is widely considered something that you should just be able to get over.
Anna: I’ve read that the reason depression is so stigmatized is that in a capitalist society, we are only valuable as long as we are productive. It sort of sucks that productivity out of you, so you are no longer to commodify yourself. You only have what you can sell. And if you’re not neurotypical in the sense that you can force yourself to be productive, then that’s when society starts to harbor judgement.
Ianna: You can’t sell your depression. I was thinking about that as well. I know a lot of high functioning people that struggle with depression, and it really proves that there’s such a broad spectrum of mental illness that doesn’t get acknowledged. And people who struggle with mental illness begin to stigmatize it as well. I feel like I don’t know enough to discuss these issues a lot of the time, and that’s where education comes in.
Anna: That’s also why therapy is so difficult for people. We’re not taught how to communicate our feelings or express ourselves, you know?
Ianna: Yeah, and telling someone that you go to therapy changes their perception of you.
Anna: Yet more and more people are turning to therapy, which leads in to my next question; How does our generation differs from generations of the past in regards to mental illness and mental health?
”We’ve come a long way, but we haven't come far enough.
Ianna: Having a mental illness is, generally, still not considered acceptable. We’re in a middle ground. We are making progress, but its slow, and we need greater education to solve that.
Anna: What’s unique about our generation is, obviously, social media. I think that social media has an effect on mental illness and education as well. You can kind of kind a community, but uniquely with mental illness those communities can be harmful. Social media can quickly begin to romanticize mental illness in a way, and that’s something our generation is criticized for.
Ianna: In some cases social media can be really helpful, because it is connecting people and at times providing a good outlet. But it can be problematic as well. For example, people have latched onto the word “triggered” and are using it in scenarios it doesn’t apply to. That’s really harmful, as people with PTSD really struggle with that. Often times people don’t realize the harm they are doing, and sometimes people don’t care. It all depends on the user.
Anna: Another thing our generation is criticized for is being too light hearted about our struggles with mental health. We use humor as a coping mechanism, which, like, our friend group is certainly guilty of.
Ianna: I think coping with humor is valid. I think that in the eyes of older people it is another example of our faking mental illness, or further proof that mental illness doesn’t exist. Thats a tool that they use against us.
Anna: Do you think adults would benefit from laughing at their pain?
Ianna: I think that some do, but it’s generally unacceptable in the adult world.
Anna: I’m curious, as our generation moves into the workforce, what types of changes we will see in the context of mental health. If we will redefine what’s okay and what’s not. In our generation, at least in my bubble, it is acceptable to, for example, take a mental health day.
Ianna: I worry that it will still become less acceptable the older we get. I don’t know. When I think about the youth of the 60’s being primarily liberal and then growing more conservative as they got older, I wonder if that will happen to our generation.
Anna: So how does community impact mental health?
Ianna: Like your friend group? Having a community, or a safe space, is important. It’s vital to coping. It’s difficult to feel okay without a community. The feeling of loneliness can worsen an existing illnesses.
Anna: Im glad you brought up safe spaces. That’s yet another thing that our generation is criticized for, even on as small of a scale as Springdale High. It’s interesting. Going into this, I hadn’t anticipated that this was the intergenerational conflict. After talking about it, we are so much more divided on this issue than most others. This is a very unique issue to our generation, particularly in that it’s the first time it’s being openly discussed
Ianna: It’s never been able to be talked about. It’s always been a problem, though, just never one that was discussed.
Anna: Where do you see the conversation surrounding mental health moving from here?
Ianna: Hopefully we will continue on this path, gaining more and more visibility and acceptance. I feel like the slow pace at which we’ve been progressing will continue, but there will be progress. The world is making small steps in the right direction.
Anna: I don’t know if you saw Jay Z on Letterman, but he told a story about telling his daughter to put on her shoes and get in the car. And they’re driving to school, and she tells him “Dad, the tone of voice you used when you told me to put on my shoes hurt my feelings.” I thought that was just the most profound thing. She’s like, three years old and she communicates better than I do.
Ianna: I think that’s beautiful, I would never. That’s huge.
Anna: Do you have any advice or tips for someone struggling with mental illness?
Ianna: Talk to your friends, try your best to find a network. That’s difficult but it’s so important to find people who support you, who you can talk candidly to. That’s vital. Be honest with yourself about how you feel.