Stigmas Surrounding Mental Health
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Health and Wellness

Hope, Among Other Things: Discussing The Stigmas Surrounding Mental Health

It really is OK to not be OK.

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image of a button that talks about hope
Alaina Staggs

Recently, I made a heartfelt post on my personal Instagram regarding the topic of mental health. In light of several recent celebrity suicides, I felt it time to say my piece on the matter of mental health and mental illness. Firstly, I would like to remind you that suicide is not selfish. Those who believe so truly misinterpret the desperation that one must feel to end their life as a cry for attention, and this is a fad that needs to stop. A lack of hope and feeling utter desperation is not selfish.

Secondly, while most individuals who post about mental health following the death of a celebrity or a small-town “hero" might mean well, I see far too many constantly spouting the message "just speak up". There's a lot wrong with that argument, and frankly, it's unfair to think someone could reach out that easily.

In my personal post, I recounted my own struggle to speak up when things got hard for me. At my lowest, I would spend hours or days in bed staring at the wall dissociating from reality and wondering what was wrong with me. You see, I am usually a fairly efficient person. One of the top in my graduating class in high school; your typical "overachiever". I had so many big dreams, so much hope. On my better days, I still do. So, this leaves us with the burning question at the back of my mind that ceases to go away. Why on Earth can't I get out of bed or do something so simple as wash my hair or respond to texts from friends or family?

Once, during my first semester in college, I slept for fourteen hours. Concerned friends and family thought something tragic had happened to me. In reality, my body and my spirit were broken. I was so tired. Now, nothing like this had ever happened to me before. I was used to late nights, too much on my plate, 90 miles a minute or you're a failure. Why would my body simply crash like this?

On another occasion, I found myself so unable to focus or retain any information that I hid from my coursework and my lectures for days because I couldn't face the truth that I was so deep in my depression that I couldn't even bear to get dressed in the morning. I began to question how low I could truly go before things became too much - far too much than they already were.

Looking through my timeline at all the well-meant posts, adorned with smilies and heart emojis, crying for you to just "think about how good you have it" or "just ask for help," I find myself curling my lip in distaste and shaking my head because someone battling depression and mental illness only wishes things were that simple. These types of comments reek of blatant misunderstanding of what depression does to the body and mind. Instead of hurling comments onto those who battle depression and related illness, take a hard-to-swallow pill of your own: your comments are falling on deaf ears, and accomplish nothing.

Mental illness doesn't care who you are, what you look like, or what you do. Mental illness cares not for your plans or your aspirations. Do you think depression cared that Kate Spade was loaded, or that she ran a fashion empire? If you think so, you might want to reevaluate and open your eyes. Per the mental health campaign Hope for the Day, "1 in 4 people report a mental health crisis in their life."

Per the American Society for Suicide Prevention, suicide is the tenth leading cause of death in Americans. For every suicide, twenty-five individuals attempt. Twenty. Five. Yet, we still have individuals in our society who think solving the mental health crisis is as simple as stepping outside and remembering "how good you have it."

Even still, there are individuals who attempt to romanticize suicide and mental illness - and I don't think this is what we meant when we cried for an end to the stigma of mental illness. This happens constantly. It's edgy to have a mental illness. You can't be cool unless you want to die, right? You can't be hip enough or Bella Swan enough or cringy enough until you make yourself bleed, right? As for your obsession over Thirteen Reasons Why, it's doing nothing but casting an unfair and unrealistic shadow onto the ugly face of death, suicide, and depression.

There is no single cause of suicide. It most often occurs when stressors exceed current coping abilities of someone suffering from a mental health condition.

Due to these things, depression isn't being taken seriously anymore. The fact that we have to encourage others that the existence of their feelings is valid because wanting to die is the new "trend" is insulting. Mental illness, among other things, has been described as soul-sucking. I have yet to find any other descriptor so spot-on as to illustrate what it's like to sit in that dark place in your mind and find yourself unable to do the most basic task.

Per the research foundation Hope for Depression, "depression is both a brain disorder and a state of mind. The brain is unique—it is the only organ whose function we consciously experience because the brain is the organ of the mind.
Illnesses of the mind-brain affect tens of millions of people in the United States. Depression is by far the most prevalent, representing 99% of all mind-brain illness. (Schizophrenia and major psychotic illness represent the remaining 1%). 1 The umbrella of depression encompasses Major Depressive Disorder and its related mood disorders including bipolar disorder, postpartum depression, post-traumatic stress syndrome, anxiety disorder and suicide."

If you can't take someone's feelings seriously, how can we further the destigmatization of mental illness and disorders such as depression? How can we as a society help those who suffer if you fake-smile and just tell them to “think about the good things"?

It is important to realize that unraveling your ignorant misconceptions about depression can help you look like less of a d-bag, and possibly give you the tools needed to help someone validate their own feelings as well as understand that depression is a disease and it affects everyone differently.

As for hope, that's one thing that everyone deserves. The process of accepting that your feelings are valid, and that hope comes in all types of forms, can be liberating in itself. Remember, you are never alone.


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