Struggling with mental health looks different for everyone
When Milly Smith, a UK body-positive activist, was a teen, she went to a doctor and told him she was suicidal. He dismissed her, saying she didn’t “look suicidal,” Smith wrote on Instagram. That doctor’s comment has stuck with her for over a decade.
Now, 24-year-old Smith, who has a blog and Instagram account dedicated to self-love, is on a mission to prove that there’s no such thing as “looking suicidal.” Struggling with mental health doesn’t have “a look” — and Smith is using side-by-side photos to prove it.
Tw: talk of suicidal tendencies. . "You don't look suicidal"… I remember these words coming from the Dr's mouth right after I'd just told him that I was having thoughts of suicide. I remember in that moment my 14 year old self felt invalidation, dumb and embarrassed; something no one in that mindset should have to feel. I left feeling confused, what was I supposed to look like? A bottle of pills in one hand and a suicide note in the other? Those words nearly cost me my life, that judgment, those stupid stupid words. . I remember the night just last year that I spiralled and overdosed in my living room. I remember thinking to myself "I can't get help, I don't look suicidal, I don't fit the bill, they'll laugh at me". I remember thinking I must have looked the part, must have been wearing the suicidal costume properly when I woke up in Resus as all around me were concerned, worried and sad faces. By then this could have been too late, i might not have been there to see those sad faces if my partner hadn't of saved my life. . This, this is the danger of thinking mental health has a 'face',a 'look'. This is how stigma, ignorance and judgement towards mental health/suicide affects those who are poorly. . In both these photos i'm suicidal, perhaps not in the same way but on both of these days I had suicidal thoughts racing around. . Stop the judgment. Stop the stigma.
“This, this is the danger of thinking mental health has a ‘face’,a ‘look’… In both these photos I’m suicidal, perhaps not in the same way but on both of these days I had suicidal thoughts racing around.”
“Depression doesn’t have a face. You can’t look at someone online or in person and grade their depression,” she writes. Smith has borderline personality disorder (BPD), a condition that makes it hard to regulate emotions and that affects as many as 1.6 percent of adults in the U.S., according to the National Alliance on Mental Health. In her posts, Smith talks about how difficult it is to be vulnerable and share her struggles with the world, but she still does it to show others it’s okay to ask for help: “I’m not weak, I’m not horrible, I just need help,” she writes. “If you need help, you’re not alone. You’re worthy of that help. Get it, it’s not shameful. You deserve it.”
In a photo that’s gained a lot of recent attention, Smith smiles at the camera in full makeup with her hair curled. The caption reads, “Taken 7 hours before I attempted suicide.”
This photo was taken just 7 hours before I tried to take my own life for the 3rd time. This photo was taken in the morning, we went for a walk and for some food with Eli. We laughed and enjoyed our time. That evening I took an overdose that left me in hospital for a week. . I had no idea I'd try to take my own life in the morning, I was smiling and loved the way my hair looked hence the selfie. Having BPD (undiagnosed for so long because the NHS wouldn't listen) means that my mood can switch to suicidal in seconds over the slightest trigger. . Suicidal isn't just crying, for those with a troubled life and long build ups to breaking point, it's also snap decisions made whilst your son sleeps in the same house and your loving partner kissed you goodnight hours before. . We need to learn how suicidal tendencies can present themselves beyond our ignorance to the topic. By listening and learning even the tiniest triggers/signs we can save lives. ❤️
“I had no idea I’d try to take my own life in the morning,” Smith wrote. “I was smiling and loved the way my hair looked hence the selfie. Having BPD means that my mood can switch to suicidal in seconds over the slightest trigger.”
The photo has amassed more than 12,000 likes and thousands of comments from people thanking Smith for sharing her story with so much vulnerability.
“Thank you for bringing awareness to depression. I have chronic depression and a lot of people don’t understand the fact that no matter how ‘good’ your life is, the depression always comes back with full force,” one commenter wrote. Others chimed in with their own experiences with depression similar to Smith’s.
Smith’s photos are starting an important conversation. Struggling with depression doesn’t have a look, and those who are fighting it can still look and seem happy. It’s so important to take people at their word when they discuss their struggles.
Short, intense depressive episodes are real and horrible. On the left I was trying to take a photo with Eli. On the right id just had a meltdown/panic attack over my body image from taking photos. 〰 I took a mirror photo to highlight the impact a panic attack/depressive episode can have so quickly, how it doesn't always take a long stressful day/series of events to breakdown; sometimes it can happen in an instant. 〰 Eli sat with me this whole time as I broke down, cried and panicked in short depressive burst. I then felt the overwhelming guilt of him having to see me like this when in reality he just felt concern and wanted to stroke my face/hug me as he's a compassionate soul who will be raised knowing that his momma struggles with her mind and that it's okay! 〰 Mothers with mental health problems, I see you. I'm here, standing with you, standing against all odds and raising the future one day at a time whilst battling with our minds. You're not going unnoticed or unappreciated- you are incredible. 〰 May is mental health awareness month and I've done a video to help reduce stigma on my YouTube channel. Link in bio 💜
Thanks for being so strong and continuing this conversation, Milly.