You learn about it in virtually every psychology class you take. You see it in the media and hear about it on the news nearly every day. Another emotionally disturbed or substance addicted individual committed a crime or act of wrongdoing. Labeling these individuals as "crazy" or "other" becomes easy to do.
What we fail to realize however, is that mental illness is a comprehensive topic that is defined as "a wide range of conditions that affect mood, thinking, and behavior". Approximately 43.8 million adults in the US experience mental illness in a given year.
What if one of those people is you? What if that number includes some of the people you know and love the most?
I have the advantageous hindsight of knowing many people who have been or are continually affected by mental illness. I am very close to someone with diagnosed anxiety. I am also very close to someone with diagnosed depression. I myself experience a combination of the two. Though undiagnosed, I have enough knowledge and exposure to recognize the symptoms within myself. I also have a parent who is a recovering alcoholic. You could say I hit the mental disorder lottery.
Despite having shortcomings with emotional stability, my loved ones are not in any way dangers to themselves or others, and they are genuinely good people. The re-occurring problem that I see revolves around the stigma that hangs closely to these disorders. Victims of mental illness are not only wrought with their own individual and unique symptoms, but shame. Admitting that you have a "problem" is difficult and embarrassing for many, because who could possibly understand what you are going through, and who wouldn't judge you or lump you in with the "crazies"?
These questions are the essential cornerstones behind the stigma. The ugly backbone of distress. This permeating notion ironically exists only because we are so afraid to openly talk about the subject. With the stats reigning in at 1 in 5 adults, every person is bound to know someone who is affected. So why is it so hard to talk about?
When we fall down and break something or catch the flu, we acknowledge that we have fallen ill. Our brains can malfunction this way as well, becoming "sick". There is a weakness associated with this idea that I can't seem to wrap my head around.
Hip hop artist/rapper Kid Cudi posted a note to his fans on Facebook after deciding to check himself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. Cudi writes, "Yesterday I checked myself into rehab for depression and suicidal urges. I am not at peace. I haven’t been since you’ve known me. If I didn’t come here, I would've done something to myself. I simply am a damaged human swimming in a pool of emotions everyday of my life. There's a ragin' violent storm inside of my heart at all times. Idk what peace feels like. Idk how to relax. My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember and I never leave the house because of it. I can't make new friends because of it. I don't trust anyone because of it and I'm tired of being held back in my life. I deserve to have peace. I deserve to be happy and smiling. Why not me"?
After reading this testimony, I can't think of one person that would view someone's decision to better their life and find peace humiliating. So why can't we practice this empathy at all times, reaching out to those in need and offering support with open arms? Treatment is possible, and so is moving on, with the right encouragement and assistance.
Let's vow to approach the matter with sensitivity instead of indignation moving forward. Take the time to pay attention and notice the feelings and situations others experience. It could change someone's day, week, or even life.
We can change the stigma together and help those who are hurting alone. They may or may not be needy necessarily, but they need you.