As soon as the term "mental illness" gets brought up, most people immediately get quiet, maybe they shuffle their feet, their face becomes rigid, and they try their best to act like the term never got brought up. But why are so many people afraid to acknowledge mental illness? After all, 1 in 5 people in the United States live with a mental illness, and with over 323 million people in the country that's 64.6 million people living with a mental illness. Yet, society tells everyone to keep quiet, not to talk about mental illness when it needs to be talked about, and to go about life trying to pretend like everything is OK. As a person suffering from a mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder, I do not think this is okay. Not at all.
Mental illness can be incredibly life threatening, and there are so many different kinds of mental illness, and sometimes the signs may not be there until it is much too late. I'm sure many of you reading this either have a mental illness or know/suspect someone who does. Then why are we still not talking about it? Especially when it can be so detrimental to the person and those around them.
For example, from personal experiences, I suffered from anorexia with purging tendencies for three years. I should've been hospitalized at least on three occasions, or sent off to facilities far from home, but I'm stubborn, and refused to let that happen, even when I was resting for most of the time on 80 pounds or so. I was dying, I was a skeleton, but I was obsessed with weight and food, and I let it consume me. I lost out on amazing moments of life because of it, but fortunately, I did not lose out on life in the end. Eating disorders have the highest death rate of any mental illness, specifically anorexia, with a person dying every 62 minutes from an eating disorder. Yet, this isn't talked about.
After starting the recovery process from my eating disorder about a year ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. Since eating disorders are a mental illness, there is almost always another mental illness cause lying beneath them. Many times it tends to be depression, anxiety, OCD, or, like in my case, bipolar disorder. To express just how life-threatening mental illness can be, I, as a bipolar individual, attempted suicide at least twice; the first time was the reason I called to get a diagnosis for a mental illness, which is how I discovered I was bipolar. Not only did I attempt suicide twice, I lost a majority of my friends through my actions both before and after being diagnosed. I engaged in risky, self-destructive behaviors for years before the diagnosis and the time following it. I would act selfishly and irrationally in my manic and depressive episodes. I could easily have accidentally killed myself with many of my actions, and I could've hurt others possibly too. Yet, no one wants to acknowledge the consequences of mental illness on the individual and those around them.
And as for medication, for those with a mental illness, many times medication is the only thing to allow them to function well in society, and often times, the medication cannot be afforded. And not only that, many times those prescribing the medication are crooked or don't pay attention to their patient's concerns, and they prescribe them with the absolute wrong medication. Sometimes medication can negatively affect the individual, and sometimes they cannot even gain access to it. Since mental illness affects a fifth of Americans, these two things need to be talked about.
For example, I have been put onto three different medications (though I'm currently off any right now, a personal choice, maybe not the best, but it's better than being on the medications I was on). The first medication made me rapid cycle, even reaching the point where I'd be extremely manic, blow a thousand or so dollars in an hour or so, then the next hour feel so depressed that I'm thinking of every possible way to go ahead and kill myself. The next medication made me only depressed, severely depressed, but too zombie-like to do so much as walk to the other side of the house. The last medication, my new psychiatrist felt would work perfectly since it had the highest success rate for bipolar individuals. At first, I thought it was helping, but with time, I became almost strictly manic, continuing extreme risky behaviors for a long time. I became manipulative, selfish, self-destructive and destructive towards those around me. Every time I'd go to this new psychiatrist and express my concerns, he'd bump up the dosage and things only got worse (which is why I took myself of these meds months later, and let me tell you, the withdraws were not pretty, but with time, I've grown to control myself somewhat better during manic/depressive episodes at least). Fortunately, our insurance allowed for decently-priced visits and access to prescriptions, but many, many people in the United States cannot afford visits or prescriptions, and that needs to be addressed. And the aspect of many psychiatrists not pay attention to their patients also needs to be addressed. With the friends and family around me suffering from mental illness, I have seen the impact of not being able to afford medication, of not having the right medication, of having to switch to many different psychiatrists before finding a good one, and I think these are a big problem in America.
Mental illness can impact not only the individual but those around them. It can lead to self-destructive behaviors and addictions, such as hyper-sexuality, alcohol and drug abuse (ex. weed, pills, heroin, etc), paranoia repetitions, trust issues, overspending, hoarding, lying, theft, etc. And from first hand experience, I can say I have personally had problems with some of the problems stated above as well as others not listed. These are all problems that can directly effect friends and family of the individual and even society in general as well. I think too many addictions and crimes are not accurately addressed, and that in America, they do not look at the reasons for what may have caused these problems, but rather at the fact the problems were even caused. And I think that since we don't talk about mental illness, the underlying issues will never truly be addressed, because the majority of the time, these addictions and behaviors are caused by a mental illness. I mean, so many other nations address these issues related to mental health, and these have some of the lowest crime and best mental health systems in the world.
Mental illness is so prominent, so difficult, and so detrimental to a stable life. I have many friends and even family around me who suffer from various mental illnesses (ex. bipolar, depression, anxiety, etc.), and I have seen their growth and setbacks because of their mental illnesses. A lot of them feel like they cannot talk about their mental illness, so they keep things to themselves, which only makes things worse. And I think that not being able to freely express their concerns with mental illness only makes matters worse and leads to more damage. In fact, a few friends of mine and I started a student organization at our university to combat this stigma of not talking about and acknowledging mental illness and its consequences. It's already gained a lot of support, which is amazing, but which also shows that there are so many people out their too afraid to talk about these things, and when they find a small place that feels or seems safe to talk about it, they seek refuge there. But they should be able to freely express themselves without feeling stigmatized, burdened, looked down upon, or merely pushed to the side. Instead, society does exactly those things, and it becomes difficult for individuals to reach out and gain the help the need, be it from professionals, family, or friends.
Mental illness NEEDS to be talked about. Mental illness cannot keep being swept under the rug. Mental illness needs to be addressed. Mental illness needs more support and recognition by the general public. Mental illness should never be handled alone.
Mental illness does not mean failure, it just means that people see the world differently than most, but that does not invalidate how they feel. And if we don't talk about mental illness, it's just going to get worse.
So next time someone brings up the topic, don't shy away from it. Talk about it. Talk about the concerns and consequences. Talk about the facts and possibilities. Talk about getting help or gaining support. It all starts with one person. The more mental illness is talked about, the more that can be done to help it. I have suffered so much and have seen so many people I know around me suffer as much if not sometimes worse than I do, that the more this is addressed, the more help and benefit there can be.
And if you suffer from a mental illness, remember that you are not alone in it. You aren't the only one suffering, and you can find support all around you. Don't ever feel ashamed or embarrassed by your mental illness because it's what make you who you are, and who you are should not be something to be ashamed of. You see the world in different, fascinating ways, and you are special because of that, and your worth and importance is not defined by your mental illness.