How can a country that prides itself on healthcare policies view mental illness as a second or third priority? What I hope for is the day mental illness is treated with the same importance and seriousness as any other illness. Mental illness is, after all, a brain disorder.
We see sights like the one above on the train. It almost becomes parts of our daily routine. I was a commuter on the train recently, on my way to many different job interviews. These two issues etched a thought in my mind: (1) How many people I see out and about suffer from some form of mental illness?; and (2) Am I going to face the same stigma because I am ill?
To say that mental health and mental illnesses are plagued by stigma is a gross understatement. Yet, after one of the most successful decades into looking at neurology, we still see poor mental health and mental illness as a form of personal weakness and indulgence. This stigma that we put on people (or even ourselves) could shame them or others into not seeking treatment. Even if they do seek treatment, they can go through a nightmarish lonely recovery.
I recently realised something. They looked at my resume, decided I was a suitable candidate and called me down. They liked my experience and education. However, the moment they realised I had a mental illness, my qualifications meant nothing. I became a walking mental illness.
Yes, indeed they are.
We don’t really talk about mental health. It’s an issue that we need to talk about more but the only times we tend to talk about them is when something bad happens. I was inspired to write an article about the state of conversation about mental health after a conversation with a rather important figure in my life growing up.
Being diagnosed with a mental illness can be a life-changing event that is frightening, and it has the potential to make you feel alone. It can be helpful to talk about your diagnosis with people that you trust and care about, but it might be a topic that is very difficult to for one to approach. There are many areas to ponder about and here are some that you need to think properly about before talking to someone about your mental health diagnosis.
Us versus them – that’s the short answer. Stigma only exists because we want to be on the side of the majority, the side of what is “right” – or what we perceive as right anyway – the side which is accepted by the same majority they want to be part of.
According to the World Health Organization, mental health is defined as “a state of wellbeing in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.
When those with mental illnesses are relatively “normal” and able to function (more or less), displaying only the more “passive” symptoms, people are usually fine around them. They treat them like just another person, knowing full well (s)he has a condition.
Allow me to quote a quote by Jim Mahoney. “I wish people knew that taking one’s life can feel like sneezing to a severely depressed person, that it can be a mere reaction to the body’s overwhelming message, that after fighting a sneeze for years and years, some people simply can’t sneeze anymore, that they should not be condemned or demonized for sneezing.” – Jim Mahoney