There is a stigma we have created around mental health throughout the years that has lead to the belief that we must struggle silently. Our negative attitudes foster this stigma and often times lead to discrimination. Rather than wanting to help those who are suffering, we are quick to judge, shame and look the other way. What is it we are so afraid of?
Mental illness includes a wide range of disorders such as, but not limited to, depression, schizophrenia, bipolar, eating disorders, addiction, anxiety and obsessive-compulsive disorder. The DSM 5 (diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders) currently lists over 200 disorders. Many like to think of the DSM as a therapist’s bible. However, those being diagnosed with a mental disorder are not defined by their disorder. This is where we are going wrong.
When someone tells us they are depressed, it is easy to quickly associate them with their disorder. We need to separate them from their disorder. For some people, having a disorder is temporary, while others have to learn how to live with their disorder and manage it. This does not mean anything is wrong with the person, it just means that they might need more support.
When someone confides in us about their struggle, looking the other way might only make things worse. We were confided in for a reason. By not saying anything, we are continuing to send the message that it is not OK to talk about mental health and perpetuating the cycle of silently struggling.
It’s OK to not know how to respond to someone. It is OK to not know what to say and how to act. What is not OK is ignorance. Our problem lies in a lack of education. No one can be expected to understand another person’s struggle, but we should be able to expect compassion and respect. We should be able to allow others to have their voices heard without them feeling judged.
Next time you automatically assume someone is “crazy” if they are depressed, “starving for attention” if they are anorexic, or a “low-life” if they are an addict, consider that you might be part of the problem.