Opinion: Everyday should be #WorldMentalHealthDay

Matt Poe

I’ve never understood those dates on calendars like “National Hot Dog Day” or “National Taco Day,” etc. You’ll see these so-called “recognition” days, and many more trending on social media, on your calendar right next to that paper you’ve been putting off for weeks.

The good folks at “The Dan Patrick Show” brought this idea up the other day that most of these are just marketing ploys to entice people to buy more of something, or to make an occasion to go out for something they often do regularly. I don’t need a specified day to want to eat a taco or play with a dog. That’s every day, as far as I’m concerned.

That being said, I came across one of those days of recognition this past Monday as I scrolled through Twitter, pondering my next insanely clever tweet and looking for the next article to kill five minutes. The top trending search for the afternoon, and most of the day, was #WorldMentalHealthDay, a hashtag used to (say it with me now, class) bring awareness to those who struggle with mental health illnesses and issues around the world. Our two presidential candidates are currently struggling with them, as evident by the recent debates — ( I kid).

Only then did I scroll through some of the searched tweets to find an incredible outpour of support and positive messages for the people who struggle so mightily with illnesses that we still may not understand, on both a social and medical level.

As ugly as social media can be, it was a beautiful thing to see: Strangers giving their unconditional support to others in the hope that maybe their message is all that person needs. Much of it was written in clichés — but hey, much of life is filled with clichés as well.

Mental health illnesses and all that encompasses them is something we can talk about for endless hours. I could fill this column with dozens of statistics about how many people struggle with some type of anxiety, depression, addiction or disorder. Those numbers could begin to form some type of picture about the real epidemic that plagues so many people in this country and around the world.

Instead, I’m not going to go that route. I want to keep this short and hopefully impactful.

Like a lot of issues, statistics only allow us to understand numbers. But the estimated 450 million people around the world are not just some statistic to quantify who suffers from what. They’re friends, mothers, fathers, brothers, sisters, co-workers, customers and so many other proper and improper titles we give ourselves.

Every person you will ever meet has struggled or knows someone who struggled with mental illness. There’s a chance you struggle from one and don’t even know it. I say to hell with statistics on those two because it’s practically guaranteed.

So instead of asking you to donate or look up statistics or anything else like that, I am asking something of you that is both free and invaluable: the ability to listen to others. Too often (as evident, again, by the presidential debates) we don’t listen to what somebody is saying; we simply wait for our turn to speak and reply. Don’t do this.

St. Francis of Assisi once said that “While you are proclaiming peace with your lips, be careful to have it even more fully in your heart.” In other words, listen intently to those who share their struggles with you. Seek to understand them and help eliminate the stigma of mental health that continues to plague millions. We shouldn’t need a dumb hashtag to raise awareness about this matter, but I’m glad there is one to remind us not to forget about those who silently suffer.

If anything, it serves as a good starting point.

Matt Poe is a columnist, contact him at [email protected]