Stigma can be more debilitating than mental illness itself. Educate yourself and spread the word in hopes for a more wholesome society…
The stigma surrounding Mental Illness is so great that some people reject the idea of its existence all together; unable to grasp the concept of something so abstract. Because there are little visible physical signs of the illness (especially in high functioning individuals) unlike when one has cancer for example (noted by hair loss, frailness, paleness, etc) the notion of someone battling unseen afflictions can be lost on the uneducated. The lack of education amongst people outside of the mental health field is vast creating a big disconnect between the clinically diagnosed and the “worried well”. The divide only serving to continue the trend of misunderstanding and mistreatment.
Regarding individuals with mental illness as more than just their illness wasn’t practiced until around the 1960’s when the deinstitutionalization movement began, and long-term psychiatric institutions were pushed to shut down. Before then they were treated as nothing more than society’s biggest rejects, tossed into asylums to be kept away from “normal” civilians. Even after deinstitutionalization mental health professionals approached treatment of such persons from a ‘medical model’ aspect performing all kinds of inhumane, and often deadly, brain surgeries such as lobotomy and electroconvulsive shock therapy (ECT) in attempt to relieve symptoms. In summary, people with mental illness were living short trauma-filled lives with no hope for recovery.
Admittingly, we have come a long way from those times but there is still much work to do in the area of psychoeducation. Too many people have no idea what mental illnesses are, what they entail, and how they are treated. Typically, unless someone close to you has a mental illness the exposure to the information surrounding it is slim to none. Simply put, no one talks about it like its some type of taboo. Society has made it such a shameful thing that many rather suffer in silence than seek help and have their “defects” highlighted. This is totally ass-backwards for someone who might be dealing with depression, for instance, and isolates because of their symptoms. Without positive supports and treatment this same person is more likely to keep to themselves making their depression worse and increasing the likelihood of suicide.
Mental illness can happen to ANYONE. Any one of us can develop mental illness and there are several factors that play into it. The first being genetic predisposition which is basically having family members with mental illness and inheriting it through your DNA. The next is trauma whether emotional or physical. Exposure to trauma is a big cause for someone to develop a mental illness, especially if they do not have adequate coping skills. Accidents which affect the brain, like car accidents and severe head injuries, can also result in psychological abnormalities as the brain’s natural structures are impacted and may not function normally as a result. Basically, as was stated previously ANYONE can have a mental illness and we are ALL at risk although some more than others.
I like to use the analogy of mental illness being like dormant volcanoes that each and every one of us is born with. It lies beneath the surface sleeping just waiting to erupt. For some of us with greater risk factors, our volcanoes may become triggered more often causing the frequency of eruptions to increase and resulting in mental instability. For others (with maybe better life circumstances or healthier coping skills) they may never experience a disturbance that pushes their volcanoes to erupt. Every person is unique in that experience, but similar in that we are all susceptible. If this was more common knowledge I believe it would reduce stigma surrounding mental illness drastically. It is my hope that people will educate themselves, and others, so that individuals with mental illness may lead judgement-free productive lives to the best of their abilities.