Changing the conversation about mental health

Ending the stigma of mental illness is a necessary move in order to get people the help they need

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Approximately 62 million Americans suffer from a mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That means one in four people over the age of 18 deal with mental health problems on a daily basis.

If mental illness is as prevalent as these statistics portray, why do individuals who suffer from mental illnesses continue to deal with the harmful, and often dangerous, stigma surrounding mental health issues?

For as long as I can remember, mental health has been somewhat of a “taboo” topic. Whenever the topic of someone’s mental illness arose, it was always done so in a hushed, secretive and even embarrassed tone. As someone who suffers from an anxiety disorder, I can say first handedly this “hush hush” attitude towards mental health is extremely harmful.

From the day I was born, I have always been a nervous person. Even as a child, I couldn’t stomach doing anything even remotely dangerous without thinking, and overthinking, for hours on end.

As embarrassing as it is to admit, I never learned how to ride a bike because I was too nervous to fall. Every time my parents sat me on a bike and urged me to pedal on, I would cry until they gave up.

I always knew something wasn’t quite right, but I managed to bury that feeling deep inside of me for years. I knew something was wrong, but I was terrified to admit I could have a mental illness. I thought being mentally ill was synonymous with being crazy.

It wasn’t until my freshman year at UW-Eau Claire that I finally admitted to myself I needed help. After spending weeks holed up in my dorm room, suffering from debilitating panic attacks, I realized I couldn’t hide from the truth any longer: I had a mental illness and I needed help.

Once I got the right help, I came to realize mental illness is nothing to be afraid of. Dealing with a mental illness is like dealing with allergies or the flu. Nowadays, I wonder what I was so scared of. I laugh at myself sometimes for being scared to speak up about my mental illness. I overcame the stigma, but many others aren’t so lucky.

According to Bring Change 2 Mind, a charity dedicated to ending the negative image of mental illness, the image surrounding mental health leads to the inaccurate representation of people as incompetent, even dangerous.

This thinking causes the mentally ill to feel ashamed and alone, preventing them from getting the help they need. It is our job, as humans, to put an end to this harmful stigma surrounding mental health.

So what do we do? According to the Bring Change 2 Mind website, the best way to end how society looks at mental illness is to understand it, then talk about it.

A passage on the website explains, “Like most diseases of the body, mental illness has many causes… And just as with most diseases, mental illnesses are no one’s fault. The unusual behaviors associated with some illnesses are symptoms of the disease – not the cause.”

If you know someone who suffers from mental health issues, or even if you don’t, do your research. Understand that mental illnesses are just that – illnesses. Change the conversation about mental health; stop treating it like an embarrassing secret. Talk about it, understand it, and end the stigma.