Fighting The Stigma

Fighting The Stigma

Why I Went Public With My Eating Disorder
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Why I Chose to Go Public with My Eating Disorder

A projected 1 in 4 Americans are affected by mental illness, that is an estimated 450 million people. Two-Thirds of those people will never seek help they need.

Stigma, the discriminatory belief that mental illness should be neglected and those who suffer with it should be showered with shame and dishonor. I believe, the reason why mental illness is so hard for people to understand is because it is invisible. It’s not the same as a broken bone that you can show off with a cast, and have your classmates and coworkers sign. No one is going to want to sign your forehead. It’s hard to talk about because it is so personal. It can feel invasive, to say the least. Opening up sets a person up for vulnerability, which is not something doled out frequently.

Self-stigma, the prejudice that a victim of mental illness puts on themselves. Before I educated myself on my illness, I did not believe that eating disorders existed. I did not understand them. They lived in the realm of attention-seeking and make believe. However, what I have learned over the course of my journey is, just because you don’t understand something does not mean it is wrong. In the same way that I do not understand calculus or advanced bio-chem, that does not make either one of those things wrong.

Our world is stained with judgment and bias. We judge anyone who is different from ourselves. When has judging ever worked in our favor? You would think that with all the discrimination laws established over the years, society would understand how unproductive and harmful it is. That same judgement has caused wars and deaths. And today it the main cause preventing people from seeking the treatment they desperately need.

According to the South Carolina Department of Mental Health, “The mortality rate associated with anorexia nervosa is 12 times higher than the death rate of ALL causes of death for females 15-24 years old. Without treatment, up to 20% of people with serious eating disorders die. With treatment, the mortality rate falls to 2-3%.” That is absurd. The fact that so many young women will end up dead because they feared judgment is absolutely disgusting.

Eating Disorders have the highest mortality rate of any mental illness, so why do people still believe that they are a game of make believe? Anything so serious that it kills millions of people each year should not be taken lightly.

A decade ago, people were not as open about cancer as they are today. It was something kept close between the family. People did not broadcast their battle, instead they kept it as a secret, a secret that would slowly killing them. Thankfully, we now live in a world where cancer is accepted and cancer patients are surrounded by nothing but love and support. So why can’t the same be done for patients of mental illness?

To overcome a mental illness, you need to immerse yourself in love. Not only love from others but the love from yourself as well. But how can a victim expect to open up about their struggle if we shame or humiliate them? Or tell them to just shut up about it because they are bullshit and aren’t even real?

“Stigma breeds silence, which fuels the fear and ignorance that feeds the stigma. Breaking this vicious circle not only makes life easier for people with cancer, but can also change public attitudes towards prevention and early detection (Wagstaff).” Although Amy was referring to cancer, the same can be said about mental illness. We need to rewire the way our society perceives mental disorders. They are real, they are dangerous, and they NEED to be taken seriously. How many more people are we willing to let die to the hands of stigma before we realize that maybe, just because we don’t understand doesn’t make them wrong?

So, the reason that I am so open about my journey is because I want to let people know they are not alone. That they should not neglect treatment in fear of being humiliated. By opening up, I have broken the stigma, and I have broken the chains ot which my illness confined me. I have set myself free.

If by sharing my story, I have the chance to motivate just one person to seek support, then I will know that I have made a difference, that I have the potential to change and maybe even save a life. Then will I know that my whole journey was worth it.

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To The Person Who Feels Suicidal But Doesn't Want To Die

Suicidal thoughts are not black and white.
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Everyone assumes that if you have suicidal thoughts that means you want to die.

Suicidal thoughts are thought of in such black-and-white terms. Either you have suicidal thoughts and you want to die, or you don't have suicidal thoughts and you want to live. What most people don't understand is there are some stuck in the gray area of those two statements, I for one am one of them.

I've had suicidal thoughts since I was a kid.

My first recollection of it was when I came home after school one day and got in trouble, and while I was just sitting in the dining room I kept thinking, “I wonder what it would be like to take a knife from the kitchen and just shove it into my stomach." I didn't want to die, or even hurt myself for that matter. But those thoughts haven't stopped since.

I've thought about going into the bathroom and taking every single pill I could find and just drifting to sleep and never waking back up, I've thought about hurting myself to take the pain away, just a few days ago on my way to work I thought about driving my car straight into a tree. But I didn't. Why? Because even though that urge was so strong, I didn't want to die. I still don't, I don't want my life to end.

I don't think I've ever told anyone about these feelings. I don't want others to worry because the first thing anyone thinks when you tell them you have thoughts about hurting or killing yourself is that you're absolutely going to do it and they begin to panic. Yes, I have suicidal thoughts, but I don't want to die.

It's a confusing feeling, it's a scary feeling.

When the depression takes over you feel like you aren't in control. It's like you're drowning.

Every bad memory, every single thing that hurt you, every bad thing you've ever done comes back and grabs you by the ankle and drags you back under the water just as you're about the reach the surface. It's suffocating and not being able to do anything about it.

The hardest part is you never know when these thoughts are going to come. Some days you're just so happy and can't believe how good your life is, and the very next day you could be alone in a dark room unable to see because of the tears welling up in your eyes and thinking you'd be better off dead. You feel alone, you feel like a burden to everyone around you, you feel like the world would be better off without you. I wish it was something I could just turn off but I can't, no matter how hard I try.

These feelings come in waves.

It feels like you're swimming and the sun is shining and you're having a great time until a wave comes and sucks you under into the darkness of the water. No matter how hard you try to reach the surface again a new wave comes and hits you back under again, and again, and again.

And then it just stops.

But you never know when the next wave is going to come. You never know when you're going to be sucked back under.

I always wondered if I was the only one like this.

It didn't make any sense to me, how did I think about suicide so often but not want to die? But I was thinking about it in black and white, I thought I wasn't allowed to have those feelings since I wasn't going to act on them. But then I read articles much like this one and I realized I'm not the only one. Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, and my feelings are valid.

To everyone who feels this way, you aren't alone.

I thought I was for the longest time, I thought I was the only one who felt this way and I didn't understand how I could feel this way. But please, I implore you to talk to someone, anyone, about the way you're feeling, whether it be a family member, significant other, a friend, a therapist.

My biggest mistake all these years was never telling anyone how I feel in fear that they would either brush me off because “who could be suicidal but not want to die?" or panic and try to commit me to a hospital or something. Writing this article has been the greatest feeling of relief I've felt in a long time, talking about it helps. I know it's scary to tell people how you're feeling, but you're not alone and you don't have to go through this alone.

Suicidal thoughts aren't black and white, your feelings are valid, and there are people here for you. You are not alone.

If you or someone you know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline — 1-800-273-8255


Cover Image Credit: BengaliClicker

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Let's Change Society's View On People With Disabilities

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Imagine that you are in this scenario: Your general psychology professor walks up to you after every class and tells you that you should drop out of college, give up on your dream of becoming an attorney, and he claims that you must be cheating because "people like you" do not get A's.

Also, consider this: When asked what they thought were the biggest obstacles that disabled students face in the social sphere using a few words, nondisabled college students replied with words such as "social skills", "functioning in a social environment", "talking about age-appropriate things", and "ability to maintain conversation". Do you recognize a pattern? The perception that nondisabled individuals have about disabled people and how they should treat and interact with them is severely flawed.

Now, of course, there are exceptions to this, people who have a loved one or close friend that is disabled may treat this population and talk to them as though they would treat or talk to any nondisabled person, but those people are few and far between. How exactly do I know this you may ask? Well I know because I am one of those people, one who has a physical disability and is often treated and talked to as though I am not equal to my nondisabled peers.

Now, since the issue of the way people with disabilities are treated by the rest of society is a bit of a broad issue, to say the least, I would like to specifically focus on how the way in which those with disabilities are frequently negatively treated by nondisabled people can translate into the development of psychological issues such as anxiety, particularly social anxiety, and depression, as well as low self-esteem and what we as a society can do to prevent the development of these issues from occurring. I personally feel that the negative treatment can translate into the development of these issues due to the effects of the unfortunate treatment being so emotionally destructive and painful that these issues are almost inevitably developed. Furthermore, I think that in order to prevent these issues from developing we as a society can make a concerted effort to try to change our perspective and mentality about how disabled people are to be treated and about those with disabilities, in general.

Another thing to consider is how we can change society's perspective of who disabled people really are beyond the typical stereotypes. One of the major changes that society can make in order to accomplish this is educating people from a young age about disabilities in general and how they should treat and interact with their disabled peers. Specifically, I believe one of the most effective ways of providing this type of education is through programs that could potentially be implemented as part of school curriculums. Additionally, including disability as a topic that can be focused on in the media would help to ensure that society eventually adopts a perspective that disabled individuals are "normal" human beings with goals and aspirations just like those who do not have a disability.

In addition, support that the unfair, negative and unequal treatment exists and is prevalent is evidenced, although not directly, by the perspective that the greater majority has adopted in terms of how we view disabled persons. Generally speaking, since the times of when people first began being diagnosed and labeled as disabled, society has been "taught" to regard and treat those with disabilities as though they are inferior, because as the word "disabled" implies, they have some lack or absence of ability, and thus they must be looked at as being inferior to those who don't have a lack/absence of ability. Which, to most people, would seem completely misguided and ignorant, however, although it is somewhat subtle, this mentality seems to still be prevalent in today's society.

Despite this evidence, those who do not agree may propose that although some people might still treat disabled people unfairly, it has gotten better. "We have made progress" is something they may utilize to argue their point of view. And while that may be true, we haven't quite gotten to the point where we can say that we have done all that we can do to level the playing field between disabled and nondisabled people. Maybe one day, we can finally accomplish that, and disabled people will no longer be looked at as just being everybody's inspiration, and instead start being recognized for some of their accomplishments in life and by accomplishments, I don't just mean existing, but rather thriving and conquering obstacles head-on.

The other aspect of the argument that we must address is whether or not this negative and unfair treatment could potentially contribute to disabled individuals developing psychological issues such as depression, anxiety, social anxiety, and low self-esteem, just to name a few. I feel that it definitely could contribute because the negative and unfair treatment will obviously cause the individuals being affected by it, lots of emotional pain, which could lead to the development of long-term psychological difficulties. Moreover, it might seem obvious and intuitive that individuals with disabilities often deal with issues related to self-acceptance, and so the ill-treatment could exacerbate these issues and generate greater and more complex psychological difficulties as well.

Now, of course, people who may refute the idea that the treatment could cause these issues may say that in order to avoid the development of them, people should just "toughen up" and "get a thicker skin", it's just not that simple. In fact, it could be said that it is inevitable for disabled individuals to develop these issues due to many of the obstacles that they face daily. Overall, the issue of disabled people being unfairly and negatively treated and the consequences of that is a complex issue that I only have scratched the surface on, here. There is still much to be done to rectify society's mentality regarding this population and to help prevent against the development of psychological issues in persons with disabilities, but rest assured, we are slowly but surely getting there.

People with disabilities are just that – people. They deserve to be treated with as much kindness and respect as any other group of human beings, but unfortunately treating those with disabilities in such a way doesn't happen nearly as much as it should. Hopefully, one day in the near future the playing field will be as leveled as it can possibly be and society will view disabled individuals in the same way as nondisabled persons.

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