Take a good look at me. What do you see? You see a fine foot five white female college student. But what you may not know just by looking at me is that I have been diagnosed with both Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Generalized Anxiety Disorder, two mental illnesses. Although you can’t just tell by looking at someone, mental health disorders are very prevalent in the world. But unfortunately, mental illness, unlike physical illness, is too often surrounded by stigma.
Stigma, according to Merriam Webster, meaning “a mark of shame or discredit.” This stigma has brought turmoil to the mental health community and I propose that we end the stigma around mental illness because people resist medical treatment, mental illness is a serious affliction, and stigma is rooted in ignorance.
Rachel Griffith of Huffington Post put it very nicely. The stigma around mental illness makes people resist treatment. Sadly, therapy and medications used to treat mental illness are painted in a bad light. People think that therapy is for crazy neurotics and medications are “crazy pills”. So it makes sense that the shame and judgment surrounding treatment makes individuals with mental illness reluctant to seek help.
Often, people will use treatment as a last resort after so much internal chaos. I can say that I didn’t seek treatment until after the obsessive thoughts that consume me due to my OCD were nearly unbearable. Even though I was only thirteen at the time, I wish my parents and I should have sought treatment sooner, but the judgment and shame that goes along with therapy and medication for your mind are hard to overcome. So hard that in fact, people suffering from clinical depression and other illnesses commit suicide. That goes to show that stigma can literally cost lives.
But there is a common misconception about mental illness. This idea being that Mental Illness is merely having negative emotions and not anything serious. An article in Psychology today has a great point: people think that mental illness is the person’s own plight. Meaning that it’s all in their head, they’re just exaggerating or making things up, or they can turn off their mental illness at will. I can honestly say that that couldn’t be farther from the truth. Mental illness is just as serious as physical illness. The article in Psychology Today observes that some people who are mentally ill will distance themselves socially. This is an obvious detriment to a person’s, especially a young person’s developmental growth. And not just social difficulties but psychological and physiological issues that are brought on by mental illness are very serious. Speaking from experience, it can be just as painful for me to get an unpleasant thought out of my mind as it is for me to sprain an ankle. But the difference is that a leg heals, but mental illness can last a lifetime.
At the root of it, the stigma around mental illness derives from ignorance. People simply don’t know much about mental illness and what they do know is mostly based on inaccurate stereotypes. This ignorance was unfortunately reassured in the survey I conducted. When I asked students to share their honest thoughts on mental illness. One student answered: “we all have some sort of mental illness”. This response both infuriated and upset me because that idea is not only completely false but also because this student has been poorly educated on mental illness. However, the National Alliance on Mental Illness suggests a couple ways to help combat this ignorance that leads to stigma.
The first is to simply talk openly about mental illness. Don’t make diseases like Schizophrenia, Bipolar disorder or OCD taboo subjects, talk about them openly with not only those with mental illness but also your family and friends. Another suggestion from the National Alliance on Mental Illness is to educate yourself and others about mental illness. Take a psychology course, it’s a core anyway, google different mental illnesses as well as some famous people who have them, the results may surprise you. But it’s clear that a lot of the stigma surrounding mental illness comes from ignorance, which can be combatted by speaking freely about mental illness and educating yourself and others.
As letstalkstigma.org promotes Silence=Stigma. We need to start a dialogue and understanding about mental illness because that’s one of the most powerful ways we can rebel against stigma, an ugly stigma that can go as far as literally taking someone’s life. The stigma around mental illness needs to end because people resist treatment, mental illness is a very serious affliction, and stigma is derived from ignorance. Now, let’s try to help millions of people like me end the stigma around mental illness and create a mo