The twenty-first century has prioritized initiating dialogue in order to rectify past stigmas. However, mental health is not high on the list of priorities, so an underlying stigma on mental health continues to exist. This stigma is visible in everyday conversations; a majority of people believe that therapy is not normal, are quick to label others as "crazy", and commonly overlook signs of depression and anxiety.
What society fails to understand is the importance of mental health in our daily lives. Our mind is constantly awake and functioning, even when we are not. Yet, society automatically prioritizes physical health over mental health. A student who is physically ill is given immediate medical attention, yet that same student can experience mental illness and would probably not receive the same amount of attention. Why not?
Mental illness is extremely common, especially amongst teenagers and individuals in their early twenties. One study suggests that nearly one out of five college students experiences some form of depression or anxiety. If so many college students experience these feelings, how is mental health never the main topic of conversation? One explanation may be that mental health is extremely personal, so it can make us feel uncomfortable to open up. This is probably why most students who feel depressed or anxious do not seek help, either personally or professionally.
It must be harder for individuals to seek help when society reinforces its biases against mental health. Society conditions us to believe therapy is for 'crazy people', that people who suffer at the hands of mental health have 'issues', and that 'depression is a phase'. The first step to initiating a powerful conversation about mental health is to condemn circulating myths about mental health and mental illness. Mental health should be a priority, and society needs to redefine its outdated opinions on what mental health really means. Individuals who experience mental illness should not be ostracized. We need to promote a society of inclusion rather than exclusion, and this society is willing to listen to individuals experiencing mental illness.
A society of inclusion does not ignore the effects of mental health on society, especially younger generations. It preaches recognition and acknowledgment and works in solidarity with those experiencing mental illness in order to initiate dialogue. In this way, society stops promulgating myths about mental health. Instead, society starts to listen. Society begins to empathize and develop more resources and support systems. Society begins to support going to therapy and seeking help. Society reinstills love and support and forwards support services, such as national hotlines, that are willing to talk to someone 24/7.
An individual should never feel as though their feelings are not valid. No one should feel as if their diagnosis defines themselves. It is important for individuals to be constantly reminded that people in their life care about them, that they are wanted and loved, and that there is always someone willing to listen to whatever they are feeling. Therapy is not a drastic measure, and you are not 'crazy' if you ever make an appointment for yourself. You are brave for recognizing where you are struggling, and you are courageous to take the next step and try to improve.
I believe in a culture that strives to improve society's perspective on mental health.
And I strive to live in a society that prioritizes mental health issues just the same as physical health.
Let's start the conversation and end the stigma.