The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

One woman’s bold challenge to those with mental illness: Declare #imnotashamed

She has asked strangers join her in exposing the most private parts of their lives. She put the call out of Twitter: Disclose your mental illness and then declare #imnotashamed.

It was a rallying cry in the long-fought effort to destigmatize mental illness.

Rachel Griffin, a New York University graduate student, was 14 years old when her anxious and depressive thoughts began. It felt like they came out of nowhere. Unable to stop them, she layered them with worries about whether she’d ever live normally. The compounding thoughts spiraled.

She was scared. But she was also ashamed.

“When you ignore it or don’t seek treatment for a long time it tends to get more and more difficult. It just takes over,” she said in a phone interview. “It’s a scary place to be in when you’re fearing your own mind.”

To talk to Griffin, a spunky, fast-talking singer-songwriter, no one would suspect the dark, cyclical thoughts that sometimes permeate her mind. It’s why she has, in recent months, taken to writing openly about her lifelong experiences with mental illness. With 1 in 4 people experiencing mental illness in any given year, but only 60 percent of adults with it seeking treatment, Griffin has made it a personal mission to normalize the illness.

Riding the subway, she started jotting down notes on her iPhone for a musical set in a mental ward. The characters are everyday people who happen to struggle with mental illness. To really pursue the show, she felt she had to be honest about her own life. In October, she began writing personal essays for the Huffington Post. Her first article was called, “An Open Letter to a Person With Mental Illness.” She closed it: “Please know you are not alone. I have mental illness, too. I am you.”

“I was really nervous, but anyone who looks at me differently is worth the one person sitting alone thinking about taking their life who might get better,” Griffin said.

For one of the songs for her developing musical, “We Have Apples,” she asked people to send her messages for others with mental illness.

Her latest effort, the #imnotashamed campaign, has resulted in dozens of inspiring, personal tweets. In one, a woman who started a foundation for bipolar research after her musician son, Sean Costello, died at 28 years old, tweeted this:

Here are seven more brave tweets from people sharing their mental illness:

(Correction: It was Sean Costello’s mother who tweeted the #imnotashamed message.)

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