May is the official Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. According to NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 out of every 5 Americans, or approximately 42.5 million people, experience some form of mental illness every year. Chances are, you either know someone who is currently struggling with it or has struggled with it in the past, or you have experienced it yourself, first-hand.
Today, treatment and care for those suffering from mental illness has come a long way. Every year, researchers are learning more and more about how the human mind works, discovering new triggers, causes, solutions, preventive methods, medicines and therapies on how to best help patients. However, the biggest problem out there is not the scientific aspect of it all, but the social aspect.
Mental illnesses, which include conditions every bit as real and painful and life-threatening and scary as physical illnesses, have been dangerously distorted by our society.
It does this in mainly two ways: stigmatizing it and romanticizing it.
First, many people tend to brush off illnesses like anxiety disorders or depression by invalidating them. Can’t get out of bed? Labeled: lazy. Afraid to speak up? Labeled: socially incompetent.
For those who don’t understand the inner workings of a mind crippled by thoughts fueled by your mental illness(s), here is your first lesson: DO NOT JUDGE THOSE WHO HAVE BEEN LESS FORTUNATE THAN YOU. DON’T YOU DARE DISMISS THEIR STRUGGLES JUST BECAUSE YOU DON’T HAVE THEM.
By doing so, you are making it nearly impossible for those who need professional help come out and ask for it. By saying their problems are imaginary, in their heads, or that they’re making a big deal out of nothing, you are literally gambling with their lives.
Each year, 44,193 Americans take their own lives. Suicide is the 10th leading cause of death.
It is hard enough to feel like you are losing control of your life, let alone admitting it to a world that already thinks you are weak and only “doing it for attention”.
Secondly, while one-half of the world criticizes your illness, the other half thinks the mental anguish is somehow...beautiful. The most prominent example of this would be images from Tumblr, which I know we’ve all seen. Black and white pictures, skinny girls with their collar bones and hip bones sticking out, photoshopped images of razor blades and candy-coloured pills...and so on.
I think images like this are especially dangerous because it gives you can excuse to “befriend” your illness. Sometimes, when you’re at a very low point, it is difficult to even remember what it feels like to be free of your pain and seeing images like these becomes a reason to stay in it, even to give up on trying to get better, which is absolutely unacceptable.
Mental illness is not a game, it is not something to be taken lightly, and it is NOT beautiful. It’s not like we romanticize cancer, so why do we do it depression?
May is a month where many come out of their seasonal depression cycles. It is when spring finally feels like spring, flowers bloom, the sun is shining, and summer is around the corner. Although this by no means is a cure for anything, it is a time to reflect upon those who have made it through another hard winter and pay your respects to those who didn’t.
For those reading this from the SAS community, Gina, may you rest in peace.