In the 21st century, we – as a whole – have made great strides when it comes to accepting diversity and being more open-minded. For example, gay marriage is now legal, trans men and women are becoming less discriminated, and it’s possible that we will soon inaugurate our country’s first female president. There’s no doubt that we’re transforming into more of a politically-correct society, but there is one area that continues to be ignored and disregarded: Mental illness.
For some of you, even the term “mental illness” can sound a bit scary, but I assure you that openly discussing it will lessen those fears. The reason this needs to be talked about more is because one in five adults have experienced some form of mental health issue, and one in 25 Americans currently suffer through a serious mental illness, such as bipolar disorder, schizophrenia or major depression.
If you’re scratching your head right now wondering what the stigma against mental illness is, I really hope you keep reading this to both educate yourself and to put yourself in the shoes of someone who is discriminated because of their mental health. When people discriminate against the mentally ill, the root of the problem is that said discriminator is completely ill-informed on the victim’s disorder. This is where the broad and hurtful terms come into play, such as calling someone “crazy”, “psycho”, or a “lunatic”. Some of these words are a little outdated, but they still get passed around when people feel uncomfortable with someone who is struggling severely with their own mental health.
While name-calling usually ends once someone matures or loses interest, people have actually turned mental illness as something of a joke. For instance, most Americans view obsessive compulsive disorder – or OCD – as something that forces someone to becoming unnecessarily well-organized, or a “clean freak”. As a matter of fact, that assumption couldn’t be farther off from the truth. OCD is a terrifying mental illness that racks the brain of its victims by driving them to perform repetitive and unreasonable behaviors. I have a friend who suffers from the worst form of OCD I’ve ever seen before, and it breaks my heart every time I see him/her try to perform simple tasks, such as walking into a room or sitting down. Even though we don’t even have to consciously think about these things, everything my friend does requires him/her to take extensive and exhausting steps. He/She will probably never be able to live a normal live (even though I pray for the opposite), so the next time you say that you’re “So OCD about things” because you like your pencils lined up perfectly on your desk or your clothes folded in a certain way, just know that there are lives that have been severely damaged and/or ruined by OCD.
Obviously, OCD isn’t the only mental disorder that gets discriminated. People often say that their parents, bosses or friends “can be so bipolar sometimes” because they get very angry in a short amount of time. Sorry to burst your bubble, but bipolar disorder is a serious disease that produces mood swings that can last for weeks, or even months. I don’t know how society got the idea that bipolar disorder is like a seesaw at a playground, but there is so much to it than that.
The mental disorder that perhaps holds the most amount of stigma is depression. Like OCD and bipolar disorder, major depression is clearly misunderstood by most people, which results in large amounts of insensitivity towards those who suffer from it. People with depression are often viewed as “attention seekers that can’t handle reality”, which is something I pray you never say to someone that is depressed. However, some try to help people with depression by telling them to “look on the bright side” or to simply “cheer up”. This might come as a shock to you, but that in fact makes things worse for those with depression because they become upset at themselves for not being mentally capable of looking on the bright side of things or cheering up.
Unfortunately, I’ve experienced a lot of this stigma myself. I don’t ever enjoy sharing this with people, but I’ve been diagnosed with major depression and anxiety. I want to be more open about it so I can help people become completely nonjudgmental when it comes to mental illness. However, I know that sharing my struggles with others will certainly lessen my chances of finding a job, but if a company isn’t comfortable with having a “crazy person” in their office, then I don’t want to waste their or my time.
It’s becoming more and more difficult for those with mental disorders to find a decent job. Many background checks now include health records, which is extremely unfair and a severe invasion of privacy. Obviously, if someone with major depression and/or anxiety can’t find a company that has the moral fiber to give them a job, it’s undoubtedly going to make things worse for them.
The stigma against mental illness has even influenced those with mental disorders. They often begin to call themselves “crazy” and hurt themselves both physically and emotionally as a way of self-punishment. For me, this is something that is apparent in my life on a daily basis, and the indirect, yet constant discrimination against the mentally ill is like an unrelenting stranglehold on my soul. For some, the stigma is so much that they decide to refuse the proper treatment for their serious-but-manageable disorder(s).
It breaks my heart to know that some simply can’t handle their disorders to the point of killing themselves. You would think that suicide is a topic that is handled with the utmost respect and care, but a lot of immature and insensitive individuals use it as a way to joke about their “crippling anxiety.” First of all, I am aware that most people have anxiety; from my understanding, that’s part of being human. However, it’s not funny when anxiety literally controls someone’s life to a point that their lifestyles are completely dependent on their anxiety level. Still, some people think that they can joke about suicide and claim that it’s a better option than doing homework or showing up to class, which is something that people like me habitually consider. Trust me, I don’t get any laughs out of it. Probably the most insensitive thing I’ve seen about suicide are the memes of people drinking bleach as a “life hack” to solve all of your problems. You have no idea what that’s like when someone who has considered several different methods of suicide sees a meme that is practically promoting them to end their life.
I remember a day where I was talking to one of my good friends who didn’t know about my depression or anxiety at the time. We somehow got onto the topic of suicide, and I was stunned when they said that committing suicide was “the most selfish thing someone could ever do.” I forgive my friend 1,000 times over for saying that, but I want to let everyone who shares that same sentiment know that it’s actually the complete opposite. A lot of people die by suicide because they feel like they’ve been a burden to others in their life. They often die with the thought that things will now be better since they won’t be around. Viewing suicide as a “selfish act” is a huge misconception that I hope will change over time.
Lastly, the media loves to skew mental illness as the main reason behind many of the mass shootings this country has experienced in the last couple years, and that kind of thought process only creates more stigma. While I personally don’t know if any of these mass shooters had any mental disorders, I can promise you that you have nothing to worry about if you know someone who is mentally ill. Fearing that someone with a mental disorder will slaughter a pack of innocent pedestrians is as narrow-minded as thinking that every Muslim is a terrorist. It’s extremely bigoted to think that someone with a mental disorder is a threat to your own safety, so please consider that this is nothing more than an irrational fear.
I’m writing this not only to let people know that mental illness isn’t something to take for granted, but I also want to help those with mental disorders and encourage them to get the help they so desperately need. If there’s anything I’ve learned from extensive therapy, it’s that there is no shame in having a mental illness. I know that it’s almost impossible to think that way when a mental disorder can basically brainwash your entire outlook, but it’s important to know that you’re not alone. For those that are fortunate enough to not have to go through any major mental disorder, please respect those that do and be careful not to offend anyone with insensitivity. Thank you so much for taking the time to read this.