The stigma we don’t like to talk about

I’ve been wanting to write about a specific subject in mental health for a long time. It wasn’t until I realized that I had no idea why I was putting it off that I actually decided to complete the task. Mental health is part of the reason why I chose to start writing in the first place.

In more than one way.

I’ve focused on self-care a lot since undergrad. Writing, to me, is a form of that. Mental health has also influenced my writing by contributing to my passions and ultimately giving me more to write about.

I am not diagnosed with a mental illness, but I have worked for the past 7 years with people that have been diagnosed with severe and persistent mental illnesses. I am not alone in this work, either.

According to the US Department of Labor’s Bureau of Labor Statistics, there are just over 550k mental health workers whose primary focus is the treatment and/or diagnosis of mental health or substance abuse concerns.

That’s exciting to me. I am glad to be reminded that there are people out there caring about this population and pursuing their career in this field. Along with that, about 1 in 5 Americans suffer from mental illness in a given year. Let me say that again — About 20% of people will suffer from something like depression, bipolar, or some other mental disorder this next year.

When I read stats like that, I’m astounded. I don’t think people realize how prevalent mental illness is today. There are so many other statistics I could go over that might blow your mind.

Some would include rates like the 26% of homeless adults staying in shelters who suffer from a severe mental illness. Or how about mood disorders like depression or bipolar being the third highest cause of hospitalization in the U.S. for people aged 18–44. Poverty is another close link to mental illness that only perpetuates the stigma attached to these individuals.

Of course I’m not going to make this entire write up about the stats. Realistically, I could go on and on. You can check out a full list of mind-poppers here.

What concerns me most is how we’re handling this population. People with mental illnesses make up a decent portion of our hospitalizations, incarcerations, and homeless populations. They also have a remarkably high rate of substance abuse issues accompanied by the illness.

Living in that world for the majority of life would be an absolute nightmare. Imagine going most places with people thinking you’re crazy, being fearful of you, and refusing to sometimes even look at you.

Imagine dealing with the distraction of depression and anxiety while you’re trying to focus on a simple task. We may have all experienced these at some point, but on a smaller and much more temporary scale.

Dealing with heart-ache, for instance, gives us a sample of a depressed state. Being anxious about the dentist gives us a sample of anxiety. For those samples of time, does it not consume your mind, though? Now apply that to every day and every hour of that day. It’s tough to get anything productive done in that entrapment.

My purpose isn’t to bully you into empathy. After all, that’s impossible. I wouldn’t be empathetic to your passions and that would classify me as a hypocrite. My hope is that you’ll take a different thought pattern with these individuals. These are some stereotype-killers to help you down that path.

What people with mental illnesses are not:

  • crazy
  • hopeless souls
  • a pity party
  • weak
  • scary or evil
  • helpless
  • pathetic and desperate
  • “consumers” (I’ve always hated using the word)
  • Selfish

One of the things I do at my job is a questionnaire with people that suffer from illnesses like schizophrenia (among variations), bipolar disorder(manic/depressive), depression and anxiety. Probably about half of the people I work with also suffer from a co-occuring substance abuse issue.

On the questionnaire, the second question I ask is if they believe they have a mental illness. I actually find this to be the biggest barrier to treatment for most individuals. Because of the negative stigma that exists, often times people do not want to believe that they have an illness, and therefore will refuse treatment. This is detrimental to their mental health and can render them a victim of their illness.

All the while, their paranoia continues to dominate their decision-making and results in them acting impulsively on something or withdrawing from society completely — a nightmare that we can’t imagine.

I’ve heard us talk about enough politics to know what’s important to people. I think raising the awareness for individuals’ mental health needs is just as important as any presidential debate or political agenda I’ve ever heard.

I’m almost convinced, almost, that we care more about agendas than we do about people in need. We have millions of people out there every day struggling with a mental illness, and sometimes our biggest worry is whether or not we remembered to pick up some milk on the way home.

I know that there are people that talk about mental illness. I see it from time to time through articles and random bits of sharing on social media. What I see most is information that is shared from personal experience, though. I think there has to be a little more attention given than that.

I could be wrong, maybe I’m not a part of the right groups or I don’t follow enough of the people or things that speak on the subject. Being in the field, I just feel like I don’t see it enough. I hope it changes. I hope that I’m proven wrong.

I see people that suffer from mental illness every single day. I’m reminded of how wonderful my life is every day and that I need not take it for granted. It’s human nature to compare ourselves to each other. We don’t like to do it, but we do. It opens doors of temptation to be disappointed or pleased with our current circumstance.

The people I meet who suffer from mental illnesses usually bring me joy. I see people that smile, laugh, and continue to enjoy life despite their flaws. It’s inspiring and it reminds me that life is quite alright.

This is why we need to keep encouraging each other. Life can be beautiful if we’re together. We cannot continue to be influenced by the negative stigmas that culminate and keep us apart.


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