woman on hill alone silent suffering

Silent Suffering: How To Break Free Of The Shame of Mental Illness

Last week, I learned so much about the power of a parent’s love in the face of death and great adversity. I felt a wide range of emotions that took me on a ride that some would describe as sheer hell: anger, helplessness, and grief. However, the moment I stepped off the spiral of silent suffering, I felt a surging wave of gratitude, compassion, and empathy. And, a focus on what truly matters most in my life.

This week, after taking a moment to focus on self-love and care, I realized that if I’m feeling this way, then surely others in my team are, too. Lo and behold, after several investigative phone calls, I learned that my closest team was going through unexpected family loss, break-ups, and private anxieties. When I asked them why they didn’t share sooner, they said, “I didn’t want to be a burden to anyone.”

Silent Suffering Marks Our Inability To Cope As A Culture

When I heard my friends and colleagues say that, I couldn’t say they were wrong. There are people don’t want to be bothered by someone else’s personal troubles.  I saw a post on LinkedIn in which a man complained for seeing people who were “complaining” and bringing attention to their sobriety successes, anxiety, and more. Needless to say, he was lambasted by others as “inconsiderate”, “lacking compassion”, and “mean-spirited”. While, others agreed with his sentiments.

Some people accuse people acting out of unresolved emotional trauma and mental illness as “attention hungry” and “needy”.  Being in a state of emotional and mental illness is seen as weakness, failure, and incompetency. All the while, those who don’t want to associate with those who are suffering are the ones who are incompetent and unable to help. So, when does this vicious cycle end when this general attitude perpetuates throughout culture?

When Marriages Are Rife With Silent Suffering

I asked a friend recently if she communicated her emotional pain to her husband.

She said, “He’s like a child when it comes to understanding how to help. He just doesn’t know how, so I do most of it alone.”

Most divorces are attributed to mental illness. Whether it’s gambling, addiction issues, sexual deviancy, and so forth, these behaviors are merely symptoms of poor emotional health.

I see many couples in my office on a regular basis. Some process everything in real time, laying down the nitty gritty of all their emotions and thoughts to the point of overwhelm. Others, hold onto unresolved emotions until they burst into fits of rage or passive aggression. Both ends of the spectrum are classic cases of cultural conditioning towards emotional imbalance. Talk about it until it spirals one into a state of helplessness or until it wreaks havoc in its inevitable expression.

There has got to be a middle way.

Silent Suffering Is Bad For Business

The shocking statistic that nearly 85% of mental health conditions go undiagnosed and untreated. Mental health conditions cost 217 million workdays and over $100 billion each year.

One boss told me she frequently takes “mental health days” to recalibrate from the overwhelm of running a business and navigating her divorce. When team members experience silent suffering, they are unable to communicate their needs and instead focus on mitigating the appearance of weakness and helplessness. Productivity drops dramatically the moment work becomes a charade of self-control.

De-Stigmatizing Silent Suffering

Understanding that depression, anxiety, and other mood-disorders are expressions of an underlying issue. And, it is key to taking the first step towards de-stigmatizing silent suffering. Developing corporate and family cultures that embrace the signs of distress as an opportunity to make cultural and organizational changes is one of the hallmarks of an advanced organization.

What Can I Do To Help Someone Who Is Silently Suffering?

  1. Listen to the issue your partner tries to explain to you. And remember, you don’t have to provide a solution. You don’t have to change anything about yourself that you don’t feel is necessary.
  2. Be your happy self. Don’t feel like you have to panic, get sad, or lower your emotional state to show you care. You are allowed to be happy and healthy, even if your loved one or friend isn’t.
  3. Offer resources, but respect their choices. This is a hard one for many. Respecting the choices of those who are in a sad or unhealthy emotional state.
  4. Remember that healing has its own timeline. Some people snap out of a funk in a few hours, days, or weeks. Others take several months to a year to recover with rehabilitation and careful monitoring. Don’t ever lose hope.
  5. You can love someone who is unwell, but you don’t have to accept their bad behavior. Draw lines when it comes to explosive and destructive behavior. Work to correct those behaviors and build a sense of healthy boundaries for personal respect. Poor mental health is not an excuse for disrespect.
  6. Learn how to take care of yourself and process your own emotions. When you have learned your own coping and processing skills, you can begin sharing them with others. By sharing your own experience, you take away the stigma of mental illness.

There Is No Shame In Silent Suffering

Additionally, we should strive to assure those who are silently suffering that this is no shame in feeling alone. It makes zero sense to make someone feel bad for feeling bad.

Take these tips with you as you or someone you know is struggling with a bad day and negative feelings. Persistent application of loving kindness always goes an extra way. Learning to love yourself in light of negative emotions and difficult circumstances is the ultimate test when there is temptation to self-destruct.

Share your stories of recovery and even your stories of struggling. You never know when someone relates to your experience.

Photo by Brooke Cagle on Unsplash

Leslie Juvin-Acker

Leslie Juvin-Acker is Chief Happiness Officer of Leslie Inc. Since 2008, she has been coaching executives and business leaders all over the world. She is an expert in emotional intelligence and helps professionals tap into their own imagination to find solutions for personal and professional happiness.

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