It’s easy to be afraid of something you don’t understand – why do you think people are scared of ghosts, death or One Direction’s fandom? But what happens when the very thing people don’t understand is that big gray blob of meat inside your skull?
Mental illness has been a source of fear since ancient times, and it can definitely be said that treatment has improved substantially since the Middle Ages, when the typical prescription was less Prozac, more bloodletting. The same can be said about the way other people view individuals with mental illness. Most people diagnosed with various disorders can now live full, happy lives in the general community with the help of therapy, medication or both, and there is a good chance at least a couple of your friends have some brand of depression or anxiety.
The problem is, despite the fact that you’re not going to be lobotomized or thrown into a “One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest” style asylum from Hell, there still persists a stigma seemingly attached to people afflicted by mental illness. Just look at common vernacular – “I keep cleaning, I’m so OCD!”
“She’s so bipolar!” or unquestionably the worst offender, “I feel so retarded!”
According to the Center for Disease Control, 57 percent of all adults believe society is generally sympathetic toward people with mental illnesses. But it seems they’re not feeling the love – only 25 percent of people who actually have a mental illness feel that people are actually sympathetic toward them.
Your best friend has a flu, runny nose and all, so you wish them well and fix them chicken noodle soup or whatever. Arm gets broken, you sign the cast and give a cutesy “Get Well Soon!” card. But if you admit that your ailment is listed in the DSM-5, yeah, you might get some kind words, but at least a couple people in the vicinity will scoot ever-so-slightly away from the “crazy” person.
You can’t “see” when there is something wrong with a person’s brain, at least not the way you can see a broken bone or a skin disease. It’s not as easy to understand what the affected person is going through if you’ve never been through it yourself. Someone can describe to you how it feels to have the disorder, but you can’t completely comprehend it unless you can step into that person’s brain.
Throw on top of that the fact that nobody “chooses” to have a mental illness, the same way no one wakes up thinking “You know what would be really cool? A case of measles!” There are steps you can take to have a healthier brain, but you can’t exactly stop a disorder from creeping up on you. For the most part, it depends on the hand you were dealt genetically, as well as environmental factors.
I’ll be entirely transparent – I have OCD. It’s not exactly a stroll through the park and no, I’m not a “Monk” (there’s another point – not all people with the same mental disorder are the same). But you wouldn’t know that if you didn’t ask me. I’m a generally optimistic Honors student, a volunteer, a somewhat accomplished musician and you know, I happen to run an entire collegiate newspaper. My world didn’t come crashing down when I received the diagnosis. In fact, it helped me to find ways to deal with some of the anxiety and lead a happier, more productive life.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four Americans have a diagnosable mental illness in any given year. There’s a good chance that at least a good handful of your classmates and professors have one. Having a mental disorder doesn’t mean someone is weird or stupid or weak – it just means that his or her mind works differently.