As you may already know, May is Mental Health Awareness month. If you know me or my journey, you will know I have and still struggle with depression, self-harm, and an eating disorder. It’s interesting because even typing that out is hard for me. What will people think when they read that? You sound like a FREAK. The stigma around mental health and mental disorders makes those whose suffer become afraid to speak up about what they’re going through. There is so much negativity associated with mental health issues such as depression, OCD, bipolar disorder, anxiety, and anorexia; and while they are not positive issues, they are not something to be ignored or avoided.
So often people are judged when they open up about their struggles. If you had a physical issue, you would want people to be aware so that they are more cautious around you and don’t expect you to do things that could hurt you . For example, if you have a broken arm, you could tell people, “Hey I have a broken arm, please don’t tug on it or expect me to carry my books with it.” But with mental issues saying, “Hey, I have anorexia, please don’t talk my ear off about your restrictive diet” is unheard of. We are taught that mental disorders are something we need to hide and keep secret. But I want to challenge that.
I want to help change the stigma around mental health. Stigma is probably the main reason people struggle to open up about their mental struggles. Stigma is when an individual receives negative reactions, judgment, or stereotypes because they are being looked at differently. For example, Amanda admits to her family that she is bipolar and they suddenly assume she is crazy. People in our society tend to have false perceptions about mental illnesses and what each of them entail. Imagine a person who struggles with anorexia. Did you think of an emaciated, thin, teen-young adult female? That is because that’s how society labels anorexia. However, you can have anorexic tendencies, yet exist in a larger body or be a man. While often times the side effects of this disorder are physical, it is a mental disorder and not everyone who suffers from anorexia is underweight.
This stigma is not only present just in everyday people like your friends and family. It’s also an issue in medical care and with big insurance companies. I’ve heard of way too many people who were in a horrible mental state caused by their eating disorder, yet were not able to be accepted into treatment centers because they were not “small enough” and therefore they were not “sick enough”. Even medical professionals are judging people’s mental state based on their physical state which is incredibly unfair as eating disorders are in fact mental illnesses and NOT physical ones. People can be turned away from help for things as small as insurance or their age and in turn they continue to get worse and worse until they are find a medical professional who will accept them.
But why does all of this matter? Why should people be aware of mental issues? There are so many reasons that we should be aware of mental issues, but instead of listing them, I’m going to simplify by giving an example. Your friend has been injured in a biking accident and he is permanently unable to walk. He is given a wheel chair to help him go through daily life, and while that makes it possible to do so, things won’t always be easy for him. No one sees him as incompetent or “damaged”, but people are able to give him help and grace when needed. He is still the same guy he’s always been and you treat him the same, but you are careful not to talk about how much you hate taking the stairs or don’t feel like walking to class. It should be the same thing with mental health. We should be able to open up and say, “Look I have this problem and I do not want you to see me differently but I want you to acknowledge that I may have bad days or need help”. If your friend has depression, you should be careful to not say things like, “I have a history final in an hour, I want to kill myself”. And just like you would with a friend in a wheelchair, you could help them when things are hard. If you struggle with mental issues and feel like you can not tell anyone, I challenge you to. Your struggles matter even if you think they’re “too small” or “not serious enough” or anything along those lines. If you need help you should be able to get it. No one should have to suffer alone.