It’s my party and I’ll cry if I want to!

By Melissa Bloom, MBA, MA

We greet others by asking “how are you”. Nine times out of ten, we will likely receive a polite nonverbal acknowledgement or a simple “good, and yourself” as a response back. This predictable formality has become the standard for how we greet one another. Although nothing inherently wrong with this social exchange, we inadvertently rob ourselves of moments of genuine expression and connection.

We have long lived in a society where mental health has been looked down upon and emotions are viewed as “weak”. When we see another person crying, many of us are quick to try and stop the tears in whatever way possible. Although well intended, we are implicitly giving the other person the message that we are not comfortable with them showing intense emotion in front of us. Given this framework, it makes a lot of sense that many apologize when they cry in front of another.

When we cry, our parasympathetic nervous system gets activated, and we release endorphins and oxytocin which act to relieve emotional distress and physical pain. If we take a moment to truly think about it-crying is a very natural bodily response to extreme overwhelm and stress. So, what exactly are we apologizing for here? Why have we all decided that showing emotions isn’t socially acceptable? Why have we all decided that mental health is something that we just don’t talk about?

One in five adults in the United States live with a mental health condition. More than half of these people never receive help for fear of stigma. We fear what others may think, we judge ourselves for having these struggles, or we are unable to find accessible or affordable treatment. Despite the increased visibility and normalization of mental health over the past decade, barriers still exist. Many of us continue to operate under well intentioned, yet misguided assumptions regarding different mental health illnesses which further perpetuates stigma.

The best way to combat stigma is education and awareness. When we see someone struggling, we can check in on them. We can offer nonjudgmental spaces of genuine support and connection. We can educate ourselves on a particular mental illness if we know someone in our life is struggling. We can begin to face our own inherent judgements and biases. Emotional pain is a universal shared experience and shedding light on that fact can help us all to begin to feel more connected.

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