Mr. Rogers and Mental Health

May is Mental Health Awareness Month.  One of this campaign’s goals is to fight the stigma surrounding mental health so that people are more comfortable seeking out the support they may need.  Last year, I shared a bit about my struggles, in a general sense, in order to hopefully break some of the stigma.  I have decided to write another post, with a little bit more specifics, mostly due to a film I recently watched and its relevance.  The purpose of this is not to vent or seek pity or as a cry for help or anything like that.  While I know people may read this and want to reach out to me to offer support or the like (and I appreciate the thought), that is not what I want at all.  The purpose of this post is to fight the stigma of mental health issues by letting people know that I have struggled, and to encourage people to accept the reality of these issues and deal with them rather than avoid them and be ashamed.

Last week, I finally watched “Won’t You Be My Neighbor?” the documentary on Mr. Rogers.  I had heard about it for a long time, and the movie did not disappoint.  His basic goodness and belief in humanity, along with his quiet strength facing social ills, are truly inspiring, and a model we should aspire to.

However, there was a more negative aspect of the film that stood out to me.  A few years after Mr. Rogers’s death, there was a small backlash against his philosophy of telling children “you are special just for being you.” People claimed that this mentality had led to young people being entitled and narcissistic.  These commentators state that if one wants to be special, they have to earn it.

Now, one could have a reasonable debate about senses of entitlement and people thinking they deserve recognition without earning it.  However, this is not even close to what Mr. Rogers was trying to convey.  As the documentary explains when addressing his critics, his philosophy was that each child has an intrinsic dignity and worth, and that it is important for children to develop that feeling of self-worth.

Unfortunately, in my own life, I internalized the message of those critics rather then the message of Mr. Rogers.  For as long as I can remember, I have tied my self-worth into what I have done rather than who I am.  I must be successful and do special things in order for people to like me.

Through a variety of fortunate circumstances, it seems as though I have led a moderately successful life thus far.  Perhaps the life I have led might even be categorized as “special” by those critics who say that “specialness” must be earned.  (It should be noted that many of those “successes” were more due to my fortunate circumstances, rather than my truly “earning” them.)

Meanwhile, despite those successes, I have struggled with having little to no intrinsic self-worth throughout my life.  I am nothing without my achievements. This has often led to my being unsatisfied by my successes and devastated by my failures.

Because of this lack of self-worth, I have deep-seeded insecurities that cause me to struggle in connecting with people.  That may seem strange to many, as I can readily start conversations with strangers and enjoy being social.  However, deep down, I rarely feel that any of these people could ever actually like me.  I feel that I must be impressive in some way.  Even if I may be able to have an easy conversation with you if we see each other, the idea of calling you or messaging you or reaching out to you in any way scares the hell out of me because my inner voice tells me that I would only be bothering you. This has led to my building walls and keeping distant from people.

As I write this, I realize a secondary purpose of this is to serve as an apology and an explanation.  I apologize to any of you that I’ve pushed away or seem to have ignored at times, especially if you’ve reached out.  Oftentimes, I have every intention of reaching back out to you, but I’m not in the right frame of mind or I don’t have time at the moment, and then life gets in the way and then my insecurities take over and I withdraw.  It is a weak excuse, but I hope it explains a little.  I am sorry if it seemed as though I didn’t care or value your friendship.  Because even if I don’t say it, I do value you and your friendship immensely.

That is more than enough about me.  As I said, I don’t want this to be self-serving.  I am only sharing my issues because I want to fight the stigma that people face when discussing mental health issues.  Maybe someone out there has similar struggles in their own life and this will help them in some way.  Low self-worth and self-esteem are often linked to higher levels of depression and anxiety.

Whatever your struggles may be, I beg of you to please accept them and confront them head on.  Do not try to ignore it and bury it.  Trust me, it only gets harder with time. You could start addressing things simply by going some of the websites I’ve listed below.

If you yourself have had struggles with mental health, and feel comfortable doing so, I ask you to also share your stories so that we can all fight the stigma of mental health issues.  People need to realize that they are not alone, and that talking to a specialist if you have a melancholy that won’t go away should be no different than talking to your doctor if have a cold that won’t go away.

This year’s Mental Health Awareness Month campaign by the National Alliance on Mental Illness is “Why Care?”  And who better exemplifies the spirit of caring than Mr. Rogers?

I wish I had taken his message of self-worth to heart more than the messages of the world that I must be great at everything.  I encourage you to learn from my mistakes and listen to Mr. Rogers.  To be clear, this does not mean that you are entitled to special recognition or adulation.  However, you are entitled to respect and dignity, because you are a unique and special human being.

Hold on and appreciate those caring relationships in your life that validate your special uniqueness and build your self-worth.  Ignore the critics and avoid those relationships that you need to earn or prove yourself for.  Treasure those people who, in the spirit of Mr. Rogers, care for you and like you for just being you.


Here are some links about dealing with low self-worth and/or low self-esteem, as well as some general information on mental health awareness.

I especially like this resource personally because it differentiates between self-worth and self-esteem.  And I appreciate this distinction because I struggle with one far more than the other.

The distinction between self-esteem and self-worth aside, there is overlap, and this WikiHow page gives a bunch of simple suggestions that would help with either.

I highly recommend this website for everyone.  It is a resource website both for people struggling with some issue and for friends & family of people struggling.  At a minimum, you can read up on how to talk to a friend or family member that is facing a mental issue in case such a scenario ever arises.

The Mental Health Awareness Month website from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.  It connects to its “Why Care?” campaign and also has a large amount of different resources.

The Cure Stigma campaign from NAMI, which is focused on removing the stigma our society has about mental health issues.

This gives many tips on general well-being for both mind and body as they are intertwined.