Ending The Stigma Of Mental Illness

At a young age I was keenly aware that I was different from most of my peers. Things would affect me on a very deep level and I knew that I was highly sensitive. As a teenager I grew to understand that my hyper sensitivity was an asset for me as an actor, but it was debilitating in my everyday life. At fifteen I was diagnosed with anxiety and depression and have been living with it and trying to understand it ever since.

Teenage years are hard enough without adding anxiety and depression into the mix. I began to became recluse and missed out on a lot of teenage and young adult experiences. Being different and feeling intense emotions at all times stunted me, in a way, but what was more discouraging was feeling all alone in my struggles. Very rarely did I see mental illness depicted in the media and it was only talked about after a major tragedy, like an act of violence. Reporters would quickly flock to talk about mental illness when a shooting occurred and they would talk about prevention after the fact. I was not represented, my struggle and the struggle of millions of people was still being stigmatized.

As I started going through my late twenties, the anxiety was no longer a daily problem. It only popped up a couple times a year. The however, decided to permeate. The self-doubt and self-hatred was evident in the decisions I began to make. And low and behold this past year my anxiety decided to make a reappearance. I was actually on a film set when a wave of fear crashed over my body. I looked at the director with tears in my eyes and uttered, “I can’t do this, I have to go home.” The entire car ride home involved me screaming and crying out of disappointment and fear. I knew I had to use what I was feeling for good. I had to make something out of this.

Vacancy is a film I wrote, directed and acted in, which will be released shortly. The film details the life of a woman struggling with anxiety and depression and poses the question, which I will pose now: Why are we afraid to talk about this?

Most people living on planet earth will experience anxiety and depression during their life. Whether it’s a chronic issue or just brought on, we will all be affected by these conditions. Yet, we don’t talk about them openly. We still have this judgement attached to afflictions of the mind. “Oh, you can’t see the illness, so it must not be real,” is the common sentiment. You don’t see the bruises or the scars, but the pain is very real and should not be shunned.

I was a scared teenager when I began suffering and living with these conditions. I will admit to being ashamed of them, but now I’m a woman on a mission to bring a voice to this. By writing, by making art from the pain, it releases me from the grips of oppression. And hopefully it will give encouragement to those who are feeling like they are suffering on their own, in silence.

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Michelle Sabato

Michelle is an actor and writer who was born and raised in Cleveland's Little Italy. Some of Michelle's hobbies include: reading, writing, film and carrying conversations solely made up of movie quotes.

10 CommentsLeave a comment

  • Michelle — Thank you so very much for the courage to write this piece. Mental illness is not foreign to my family yet we never discuss it and I struggle with why that is. This was wonderfully honest and I found myself sending it along to many people who I know would benefit. Please don’t stop talking about this. You’re an inspiration!

  • Incredible article. Keep writing Michele and encourage others speak up to break the stigma. I cannot wait to see your film, as it is sure to be powerful. I have a child, now 20, with debilitating depression, anxiety, and mani since puberty. The only place we had to turn for help was doctors handing out pill bottles. All of which were temporary fixes, leading to more symptoms needing more pills. A common vicious cycle. Now he is an addict, still chasing drugs to help him feel “normal”. Unless you have lived with it or through it, you just don’t understand. People need to understand this struggle. It is real and it is too common. Awareness will start conversations and, hopefully, lead to finding solutions for people struggling in order to live productive lives.

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