How one girl single-handedly is shattering the ‘crazy’ stigma

Emily Torchiana, Founder, The Invisible Illness

“Depression is not sadness, as some use that context of the word in their everyday conversations. Depression is utter emptiness. It has the power to let you be surrounded by countless people who love you, but never feeling more alone. It can make you feel like you are the only one that feels or has ever felt this way. It literally sucks the life out of you, until you can’t take the pain anymore. Suicide is not taking the easy way out, as some have said to me in the past. Not only is this statement extremely ignorant, but also incorrect. Suicides are attempted when one feels that they have tried everything and anything else and feel they have no other option left. They don’t actually want to die. They just want the pain to stop, and in the moment, it feels like this is the only way to make it stop,” writes 22- year old Emily Torchiana, who suffers from post-traumatic stress disorder, depression, and social anxiety, in her blog.

Clearly, this college-goer really knows what it was like to have depression and one day decided to open about it. Little did she expect that it would open a Pandora’s box, with people wanting to share stories of their struggles with mental illness with her. This snowballed into her founding The Invisible Illness. The project is a public platform featuring honest portraits and first-person point of view stories of individuals who have been affected by mental illnesses.

Today, Emily is also professional motivational speaker on bullying and mental illness. Healthcare Executive got in touch with the incredibly brave young lady to tell us more about her beautiful project.

It’s not easy speaking about mental illness. What gave you are courage to open up about your condition?

I decided to open up about my mental illnesses because I was tired of hiding them. I was approached by my psychologist to speak on my college campus about my illnesses and after thinking for awhile, I decided to do it. I thought if I became comfortable opening up, then maybe others would become more comfortable and want to get help for their mental illnesses.

Other than helping the invisible be visible and help them feel not alone, what are the other goals of The Invisible Illness?

Other than providing that these illnesses are there just because you cannot physically see them, I am working to raise money/donations to implement workshops in schools and camps for those who are struggling but cannot afford therapy or are not educated enough about these illnesses. I also am hosting fundraisers in different areas to get funds, as well as selling necklaces to receive funds to accomplish these goals. My hope is that people will read the stories, relate to them and realise they are not alone, and hopefully get help if needed.

How does speaking about the illness reduce the stigma?

I think it reduces the stigma by just talking about it. Having open conversations about it will help to get the conversation moving in the right direction to reduce the stigma. I also think by showing these pictures of “seemingly normal” people, it reduces the stigma that you are “crazy” or “psychotic” to have an illness because it shows people you’d see at school, at work, in your communities. I think other ways are to educate in schools to teach children younger that it is ok to have these illnesses but to get help if needed.

What kind of stories do you feature?

I feature any story submitted that deals with a mental illness- ranging from substance abuse to depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, eating disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, etc. My goal is to show all ages, races, genders, and illnesses to show it can affect and does affect everyone.

How powerful is storytelling and portraits in your opinion?

I personally believe people since the beginning of time have told stories and that these stories are easier to relate to than statistics or facts. Stories make it more personal and can allow people to empathize or relate to others. I think by having a portrait of a seemingly normal person and then showing this story of struggles, it will reduce the stigma.

Often people who speak about their condition are shunned for being ‘complainers’ or ‘wuss.’ How can we help solve this issue?

I definitely agree that this is a problem in our cultures as seen as “dramatic” or wanting attention. I think we can solve this issue by combating those who say that and providing positive feedback to those struggling, letting them know that their problems are worthy of being listened to, and to help them get treatment or therapy. I also think by providing information to the people who call others complainers and wuss, we can provide them with educational information to help them realise these issues are normal and should not be shunned.

Tell us a bit about your team.

I am fortunate to have my team growing every day. I came up with my idea and vision for the project and brought on a head photographer, who began taking the photos in the beginning of the project with me last October and still works with me to take photos today. I have a treasurer, who deals with the business and non-profit side of the organisation. The project became a non-profit organisation in March. I also have many campus representatives, which are students at universities who retrieve stories on their campuses to show that these illnesses are everywhere, not just in my specific community. I would love in the future to expand to universities in other countries (if any students or individuals not in school in India are interested in capturing stories from their area).

Lastly, how has the project helped you?

This organisation has had an immense impact on me. Seeing how many people have benefitted from sharing their story and saying they feel “a weight has been lifted off their shoulders” to be open with their friends and family about their struggles means a lot to me that I played a part in their recovery process. Also, receiving messages saying that stories have saved individuals’ lives or encouraged individuals to seek help is an incredible feeling. If i can save lives, that is all I could ever ask to do.