How many times have you heard someone – or have you even – said the phrase “that’s crazy” in the context of a conversation? How many times have you watched a television show where mental illness was utilized as a plot device to make a character seem unlikeable or “bad.”
Now, think about how many times you’ve felt ashamed to see a doctor about a physical injury.
Just because mental illness is “invisible,” it is no less significant than physical illness. We need to start the conversation about mental health and treat it with just as much regard and importance as physical health.
The stigma surrounding mental illness is long overdue for a shakeup once and for all. The fact is, judgment of mental illness has become so ingrained in us as a society, that many people fear discussing their mental illness openly.
As a result, fewer people are receiving the help that they need to live a healthy and fulfilled life. If there is any hope for the health and well-being of future generations, it must begin with us right now.
People feel ashamed of their mental issues and therefore hide them away from the world. Often they end up isolating and self-medicating with substances which may lead to the development of addiction.
The only way to help those in need is to allow them a way to express themselves that will not be met with judgment and shame. Cruel jokes that make light of mental illness are not only distasteful but harmful.
Language that puts a person’s illness in the forefront (rather than person-first language) takes the individual out of the equation and makes the story solely about their illness. When we depersonalize individuals whose lives are touched by mental illness, we are efficiently belittling them as if they are second-class citizens.
It’s high time that we take a look at the way mental illness is depicted to the general population and see what changes are necessary to break the stigma.
According to the World Health Organisation*, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Further, depression in young people is on the rise with an increase from 5.9% in 2012 to 8.2% in 2015.
In an ideal world, individuals living with mental illness would be able to speak freely about their experiences and help would be readily available to them. While this is the end goal, for now, we can start on a microcosmic level.
Learning to break habits of using ableist language and seeking education about mental illness is an excellent place to start. On a larger scale, as a society, we need to shed our preconceived notions about mental illness and look beyond the illness at the individual. We need to cease reinforcing the stereotypes attached to words like “crazy” or “insane” that are being perpetrated by popular culture. Living with mental illness should not be cause for ostracization.
We need to open our minds and hearts and, above all, listen to the stories of individuals who live with mental illness.