I want to start off by saying this is a very sensitive topic and I am not an expert. I only know as much as my research and experiences have taught me. That being said, I also recognize that the subject of mental illness is stigmatized and hope to help change that.
For anyone just joining, this is the second in my mental health series. You can check out my first post here, and you do not have to read them in any order.
Define Mental Illness
I like to use the definitions on this site because it separates mental health from mental illness. Mental illnesses are “diagnosable mental disorders.” They affect how people think, act, and feel emotionally and physiologically.
When I think about mental illness, I think about people who say, “it’s all in your head,” and to some extent they’re right but typically not in the way they think they are. Some aspect of mental illness is psychological (which is by no means harmless” and some of it is physiological. For some people with mental illness, their brains literally process certain chemicals differently and that imbalance changes everything.
Stigma of Mental Illness
This is a subject people don’t like talking about for a variety of reasons and they vary between person to person and culture to culture. Here are some I’ve heard or believe:
- People don’t understand. Often when people don’t understand something, they’re afraid of saying the wrong thing and don’t speak at all.
- People don’t believe. There are people in the world who do not believe mental illness is real which may make them dismissive and someone with a mental illness afraid to talk about what they’re going through.
- Culture. I have a friend who was raised in the Indian culture. Her parents knew about her mental illness and chose to hide it from their relatives. Mental illness wasn’t something they talked about or acknowledged was real. Conversely, I’ve read articles about cultures that see certain mental illnesses as mystical gifts and people with mental illnesses are revered. (Note: Mental illness may not be the correct term in the latter context.)
- “Somebody has it worse.” A lot of people believe because they are better off than someone else, their illness doesn’t matter. So they don’t talk about it or seek help. They might feel they’re wasting someone’s time or resources that could be helping someone who “has it worse,” or they might believe they’re just “complaining.” I blame the latter reason on the way some societies talk about mental illness.
Everyone is socialized to act a certain way in society, and this creates a self-fulfilling prophecy where we begin to perpetuate the same socialization to those around us. It’s not always healthy or right and in some cases, it needs to change altogether.
- Mental illness is a serious issue. If you or someone you know has a mental illness, please seek support.
- All suffering is valid. This is not the crappy-life Olympics. Just because someone might have it worse doesn’t make anyone else’s suffering less bad or real.
- People care. There are people in the world who want to help those with mental illness, take it seriously, and can offer additional support.
If you have any comments or stories, feel free to share if you are comfortable.