Mental Health stigma is REAL. And as much of a tragedy as it is, I completely understand why – it’s because no one really knows about mental health and mental illness.
Even I’m guilty of this. I have to admit, I didn’t really know panic attacks were a real thing until a close friend of mine during my junior year of high school was explaining the anxiety disorder she had been dealing with for years. Her anxiety attacks would strike at night, and we would just talk for hours into the early morning until she fell asleep from exhaustion. I felt so naïve and honestly ridiculous. You see, it’s not that I didn’t think anxiety attacks were real; part of me wants to believe that I knew they were real, but it wasn’t until someone I personally knew had suffered from one – or in the case of my friend, many – of them that it truly became a reality. People use “panic attacks” so fluidly and colloquially in their vernacular that it didn’t register as a serious thing. Almost in the same way that some people believe racism doesn’t exist, purely because they haven’t experience or they haven’t known someone who has experienced it in this modern age. Both mental health information and race relations have improved a great deal in the last 60 years, that is true; but they’re still not in a great condition. I personally think that people do believe that mental health, and other problems that aren’t commonly experienced by the majority, exist at some level, but it doesn’t really catch their attention until it hits home on a personal level.
I’m currently taking an Abnormal Psychology class, and our semester-long collateral assignment involves investigating the stigma around mental health. It’s incredible to see how the stigma evolved and shifted as people got more educated. Just a 100 years ago, admitting you had mental health issues would result in you being labeled “crazy” and thrown into an insane asylum with inhumane living conditions. The public, even doctors and scientists, didn’t know better, and the quiet existence of mental health made it all the more terrifying to them. You lived inhumanly because you couldn’t be fully human suffering from mental illness. It’s fascinating how people are so quick to violently reject the unknown; take the feminism movement, for instance, and how it has brought attention to rape culture on college campuses. But there is a still loud group of people who will steadfastly oppose the notion of the (very real) existence of rape and rape culture, almost purely based off of a few anecdotal pieces that already align with their preconceived bias and spectrum of knowledge on the subject.
In the case with mental health, the violent stigma has thankfully improved with the greater understanding around the subject, but violent stigma just evolved to…regular stigma. You see this opposition to acknowledging the problem all the time, because the personal identification piece is missing for many people. “Why do you have depression? Your life is so great!” “You suffer from anxiety? Does that just mean you get nervous easily? Everyone gets nervous/anxious.” “You probably don’t have ADD/ADHD – just try concentrating harder.” Is it true that some people are attention-seeking and believe they suffer from illnesses that they don’t? Yes, that is true. Do false rape claims occur? Sure. But in both cases, they statistically occur at a punitive rate; they are a minority, an exception; yet people choose to believe otherwise, to make the act of thinking more convenient.
Truthfully, there are millions – literally millions – of people who aren’t seeking consultation and treatment for mental illness(es) when they need to be, because of people’s lack of knowledge on the subject. Depression is not just feeling sad, anxiety is not just feeling nervous, ADD/ADHD is not just about being the human embodiment of Dug the dog from the movie Up. But when you refuse to even acknowledge the complexity of a problem, then there is no hope for you to learn that it is a problem in the first place. And that lack of understanding – that ignorance – becomes a stigma that plagues people in a way that scares or shames them for seeking necessary treatment.
The bottom line is this: everyone is ignorant – some more than others, for sure. But everyone is ignorant to some degree, on a broad range of subjects and topics. Ignorance is the source behind the stigma around mental health, and almost every issue the general public rejects or remains silent and/or indifferent on. Human beings have a natural tendency to think that something isn’t a problem just because it’s not a problem to them personally. But as I said earlier, we have all been guilty of it at some point or another. Thankfully, many people recognize this extremely flawed, egocentric logic. But unfortunately, many people don’t, and therefore simply don’t know better. Knowledge truly is the only way to be create a happier, healthier world, free of judgement and free of fear to seek help.
As always, thank you for reading. Check out some awesome bonus links below.
Relevant TED Talk of the Day:
Confessions of a Depressed Comic
Another piece of fantastic, relevant insight with one of my favorite people in the world, Kristen Bell