Break the Silence, End the Stigma

Illustration of the Reality of Mental Illness; Depression
I sit alone in the dark.
The sun is shining, birds chirping, children playing,
But all that surrounds me is darkness.
Every time someone says, 
“Cheer up”
I sink deeper into my pit.
The hole my brain has dug for itself.
The serotonin that refuses to pass through my synapses.
This is depression,
The unspoken disease.

A poem about The Harsh Truth of Life With Depression written by a teenager who suffers with mental disorders. She wrote about how people around her expecting her to be normal, happy, just like everybody else. This is basically what everyone with mental illness facing everyday, people wanting them to be ‘normal’. The reality is they don’t have the luxury to choose which positive or negative emotion that will affect them in a day to day life.

As a psychology student, I feel so unfortunate to the fact that the majority of people aren’t knowledgeable about mental illness. Our cognizance about mental illness is incomplete. Even me, before I study this, I’m just like the rest of the society who assume that mental health issues are just a phase, that’s because there is no knowledge about mental health and because people with knowledge of it do not care as they think the people with mental illness are disgrace to humanity. So I pledged to myself to help end the stigma of mental illness.

Mental health is just as important as physical health, and it is as real as cancer, diabetes, or heart disease. We might not able to see what’s in their head, we can’t see the struggle behind that smiley face, and when they finally speak up about their problems we think they’re exaggerating their feelings or emotions. People will say to them that they’re just being moody, people tell them that they’re just looking for attention. This is why around 65% of people experiencing symptoms of a mental illness don’t seek help from health services, they’re afraid of the stigma in society.

“He’s crazy.”

“I could never do such a thing.”

“Therapy is for crazy people.”

“Snap out of it.”

“I’ll never hear voices.”

“She must have the devil in her.”

It irks me just to hear people talk that way to those who suffer with mental disorders. I remember a saying I read in a book:

“We’re all living in glass houses, and people who live in glass houses shouldn’t be throwing stones.” — unknown.

It means that we, who are mentally healthy, live in a house where everything is fine because we lock ourselves from the outside while actually the people outside this house need protection and treatment, but instead, we’re throwing stones at them by ignoring and judging them when we should be helping. It’s as if we as a society assume that to suffer with a mental health issue, he or she woke up and decided to consciously make life difficult for him or herself. Really?! Well, now I want to make my life suck. It sounds ridiculous, isn’t it? Who wants to have such desolate life?

The reasons behind this suffering are complex, both mental health and physical health reality are composite. Our overall well-being is being affected by multiple factors such as genetics, environment, lifestyle, diet, trauma or the occurrence of negative life events. No one is immune to mental health disorders. Mental health exists on a continuum. A human being can travel this continuum throughout his or her lifetime. For example, a woman who lives her life happily then all of a sudden her phone rang and someone told her that her husband and children died in an accident. She wouldn’t be the same person like she was before, her reasons for living is gone.

Regardless, mental health issues are not just a phase of life. Actually, the increasing of morbidity and mortality of it are largely due to preventable conditions, that is mainly because of the stigma that makes people with mental health issues are afraid to seek help.

Two basic kinds of mental health stigma:

  1. Dismissiveness. A form of denial, characterized by either passively showing indifference or disregard, or actively dismissing or rejecting ideas or evidence.
  2. Dehumanization. The process of depriving a person or group of positive human qualities. Making them seem less than human and hence not worthy of humane treatment.

Mental illness responds to treatment and support, not orders and judgement. People with depression can’t just ‘cheer up’. People with anxiety can’t just ‘calm down’. People experiencing delusions can’t just ‘come to their senses’ and people with OCD can’t just ‘give it a rest’. You’d never tell someone with cancer to ‘just get over it!’, would you?

My last word is, I hope someday, soon, mental health will be treated as a part of health care, will be available to all people, just like physical health. And I hope the stigma of mental illness will come to an end, as the people with mental disorders are not responsible for their illness.

Just because it happens in someone’s head,
 just because it doesn’t appear physically,
 just because you can’t see it;
 doesn’t mean its not exist.
 Not all wounds are visible.

Mental illness is not a choice, but stigma and ignorance are.