What Nobody Wants to Talk About

Perhaps many of you don’t realize this, but a social stigma of mental illness exists, and it is a very bad thing. This stigma is perpetuated by Hollywood’s alarmingly inaccurate conceptions of the mentally ill. They are portrayed in films and television as violent lunatics who are dangerous and should be avoided. A general lack of understanding of mental health also doesn’t help their case — people fear what they don’t understand. Mental illness has also garnered a very poor reputation over the course of history mostly due to the lack of scientific knowledge, but also because of cultural and religious beliefs. In the western world especially, mental illness sufferers have not had it easy over the last few centuries, and were generally forgotten. Another aspect of this social stigma is the misconception that mental illness sufferers are in that condition due to some fault of their own. Similarly, the mentally ill can be viewed as simply weak-willed, as if it is all in their heads.

So what are the consequences of the proliferation of such stigmas? People who suffer from mental illnesses may feel embarrassed about sharing their pain and experiences with those they are close to for fear of being ostracized. People who suffer may be less inclined to seek help because they believe that it really is all in their heads or that they are just being weak. Or maybe they don’t want to face the shame of having to take medication or see a professional and don’t want to consider the possibility that something is actually medically wrong with them. There is a clear sense that the social stigmas emanating from one’s peers and from society as a whole can cause sufferers’s to develop their own internal self-inflicted stigmas as well. By that I mean that they may start to believe that they are a burden to their loved ones, or that there is no help or hope for them or that it may actually be all their fault.

The social stigmas I have described above are all inaccurate and must be cleared before we can help sufferers. Luckily, we are entering upon an age where huge advances in the fields of psychology and neuroscience may give new insights into the inner working of the mind and brain and the diseases and disorders which plague them. I cannot be more adamant when I say that mental illness is and should be considered a health disease of the brain, just as tuberculosis and ALS are considered diseases of the lungs and nerves, respectively. A person suffering from clinical depression may need to take medication to increase his levels of serotonin just as a diabetic needs regular insulin shots to maintain her blood sugar levels. Mental illness should never be blamed on the victim; it is never really one’s fault. Lifestyles involving hardcore use of drugs may make someone more likely to fall into some illness. But most known causes are out of the victim’s control and range from abuse, to head injuries and even genetics. Let me also make it clear that the term mental illness can cover a wide range of diseases: from generalized anxiety disorder, to eating disorders, to schizophrenia and many more. Mental illness is not a matter of will-power; often times one’s feelings and maybe even thoughts are scarily out of one’s control.
Unfortunately, despite the progress that has already been made, the field of mental healthcare still has a long ways to go. Doctors may understand that certain medications help a person with, say, anxiety, but they do not know what exactly causes the chemical imbalance that leads to such a disorder. Another issue that professionals of the mental health run into is that there seems to be a wider array of disorders than was previously thought. Symptoms appear to overlap quite a bit, so it is not often clear whether a patient is suffering from condition A, or from condition B or perhaps a combination of the two. To be sure, for many cases it is extremely clear to a mental health professional what a person has — I don’t mean to dismiss their capability as doctors, but we have a long way to go before we understand all there is to know about these diseases. Hopefully they can all be effectively cured one day.

I am sure that many of you reading this article share my opinion: that the social stigma of mental illness is a sin of our society and should be eliminated as soon as possible so as to better the future of mental healthcare for everyone. So what are you supposed to do to help that? Well, I urge everyone to immediately get themselves educated. The more you know about these types of diseases and their symptoms, the more you will understand how incredibly false most popular notions are. Furthermore, by increasing public knowledge on the subject, we will hopefully get everyone to view mental illness in the same boat as other (more physically symptomatic) illnesses. Secondly, if you are under the impression that someone you know or care for may be suffering in any such way, especially if they are trying to hide it, you should reach out to them. It is uncomfortable talking about these subjects, or about feelings in general, but who knows? You may actually give people in need of help the attention and care they deserve and hopefully guide them to professional help if they need it. While everyone is entitled to their privacy, I argue that that should not be the case if they are endangering themselves and are seriously in need of help.

If you feel like you need help yourself, please reach out to someone. A friend, family member, RC, coach or anyone you feel comfortable opening up to should be there. You are not alone, there are bound to be people with issues similar to yours. It is not your fault that you are feeling the way you are feeling. Also, you can be helped — there are professionals trained to deal with various issues of the mental kind. Reach out to the counseling center, there is nothing wrong with needing help. More people go to the counseling center than will admit it, and that is probably due to the social stigma.

There is one last thing I want to draw to the spotlight, and that is suicide. Mental illness is certainly not the only driving force behind suicide, but is definitely a factor in a number of cases. Financial difficulties, relationship issues, bullying, or whatever the cause may be- the fact that real people come to the conclusion that their life is not worth living anymore is a tragedy. I cannot speak for all people who have contemplated such an act, but it basically boils down to having only one desperate measure left for eliminating one’s unending and unrelenting suffering. Let me make this clear: suicide is always preventable. If you are having any thoughts about hurting yourself or ending your own life, I urge you to tell someone you trust. There is another way out. Similarly, if you have a friend who is contemplating ending it all, compel them to see a doctor, and if the situation grows more desperate alert an official at the college who can help.