The Mental Health Vegan Series: Sharing the Responsibility of Mental Health Recovery

We welcome back Laura Burnes, the Mental Health Vegan, to talk about why supporting someone with a mental health issue is not the sole responsibility of one person -- but instead, a collective effort that requires both support from friends and family, and the perseverance and the participation of those living with mental health issues.

Image of a girl looking in a mirror at a reflection of herself struggling and offering comfort
Geraldine Sy

In the first installment of the Mental Health Vegan series, we talked with Laura Burnes about living with anxiety and depression, and documenting her experience and recovery on social media. Using her platform, Good Sh-t Daily, Laura finds meaning through dispelling myths about living with mental health disorders.

In this second installment, we talk with Laura about how she found help for her Generalized Anxiety Disorder and depression despite social, familial, and personal barriers. Through her experience, Laura has discovered that recovery from a mental health disorder requires both effort from family and friends, and the perseverance of the individual, and she hopes that by sharing her story, more people will feel empowered to seek treatment, or reach out to others who might need help.

Seeking help for a mental health issue is the first step towards getting and staying healthy, but it can also be the hardest step to take. When a person is struggling with a mental health disorder, that way of life can quickly become a new normal—he/she may not even know anything is wrong and therefore, would not know he/she can ask for help.

Loved ones may be able to intervene and help, but what if they don’t recognize the signs? What if loved ones misunderstand behavior of the person in need? For Laura, who didn’t recognize her symptoms and was unable to ask for help, the road to recovery was a long and winding road.

“It wasn’t until 2014 when I realized I had an anxiety issue. By that point, I was a Mom and was responsible for my family. And then, it wasn't until a few years later that I realized I had been suffering from depression and anxiety since high school. My parents didn't know the signs; they had no idea—I didn't know. No one knew that me wanting to sleep in all day, and avoiding class and school work were signs of anxiety and depression.”

According to Carol Gold, MD, depression in teens usually goes undiagnosed. While high schools are starting to give depression-screening surveys, they are still uncommon and when administered, and they are often given anonymously, so no one follows up to get teens into treatment. Without intervention from schools, it can be hard for families to understand that a teen may be struggling. Parents typically think that being a teenager is just a difficult time and the depression and anxiety gets attributed to normal adolescence.

“I never got breakfast on Saturday and Sunday mornings at my house when I was younger. I was so exhausted from the week that all I wanted to do was sleep—I literally could sleep all day. So my mom would cook breakfast, but then not save any for me. She just called me lazy, because I wasn't getting up early enough to eat. She didn’t understand that my energy levels were more than just laziness.”

It wasn’t until Laura’s mental health reached a breaking point later in her life that she was able to seek help. Having just gone through a divorce and started a new job, the elevated stress levels and life transitions triggered her symptoms of depression and anxiety on a new level. Laura’s suicide attempt was a wake-up call.

“I was tired all the time. I couldn't stop crying. I was stressed out over everything and wasn't really taking care of myself the way that I should’ve. A friend of mine at the time said, ‘It sounds like you've got some anxiety or depression issues. Have you talked to anybody?’”

People who suffer with depression report that asking for help is a major struggle, and can feel impossible. It can feel pointless. It can be hard to find the words to describe how one is feeling. And even if it’s possible to describe, it’s easy to worry about the reactions they will get in return. People feel like they’ll be considered a burden, or a failure, and many report wanting to “be able to deal with depression and anxiety on their own.”

Knowing that those who are suffering may never ask for help, it is up to friends and family to reach out when someone is struggling. It is important to take responsibility for helping others and let them know they are not alone. Luckily for Laura, a friend recognized the signs and spoke up, encouraging Laura to seek help.

When Laura finally did seek help, she worked with three other therapists before finding the right fit. Once she started receiving the help she needed, she quickly realized it was up to her to put in the work to get her anxiety and depression under control.

Finding the right therapist was only the first step towards feeling better. While the process of seeking help for a mental health condition may require additional support from family and friends, the process of recovery once in treatment is the personal responsibility of the patient.

“You have to you have to find it within yourself to put in the work to make yourself better. At one point, I realized that I had done everything I could do to feel better but they weren’t working, so what's the next thing? That was literally the last step. I realized, I've done everything, so let's try going to therapy.”

“It was up to me, and me alone, to keep searching for someone who was capable of helping me, and who I felt comfortable with. Ask each person if they can just meet with you to see if you vibe together. It’s important that they understand you just as much as you understand them. Don't be afraid to say this isn't working out, or that you’re not into it. A therapist is not going to take offense to it. They're professionals.”

As reported by PsychCentral, it is important to view therapy as a collaboration. “Therapy is an interactive process. Express your needs, ask questions, read books, and do the “homework assignments,” says Susan Lager, LICSW, a psychotherapist and relationship coach in Portsmouth, New Hampshire. It is also important to set markers of change to be as successful as possible. “Establish markers with your therapist for positive change, so that you’ll be better able to track your progress and stay motivated,” says Lager. “These markers include anything behavioral, emotional or attitudinal, which you can observe.”

“When working with your therapist, there's only so much they can do. Let’s say, you have a lot in common, you really connect with them, you can let your guard down around them. It is then up to you to open up. If you hold back, you're not going to get anything out of it, regardless of the therapist that you have. You can have the best therapist in the world, but if you walk into that room, sit on that couch, and don’t put it all out there, it doesn't matter. It’s about about putting in the work to get better.”

Knowing that putting in the work may be easier said than done, Laura says it’s all about having the confidence, belief in, and love for yourself that is most important when overcoming a mental health issue. “Things aren't just going to get better because you are thinking positively. Things aren't going to get better just because you show up every day. You have to you have to find it within yourself to put in the work to make yourself better.”

Asking for help with depression and anxiety is difficult, but once the symptoms have been acknowledged and treatment has started, it is up to the patient to be actively present, participative, and committed for the best outcome.

“Without love for yourself, it’s easy to get stuck. But in the end, your mental health is your responsibility — not the responsibility of your employer, your friends, your family, or your therapist. It is absolutely up to you. It sucks and it's hard, and sometimes I still even question why I should keep fighting to get better, but it's always because I'm worth the work.”

If you or someone you know needs help, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255. All call centers are open 24/7 and calls are confidential. Visit https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ for more information.