‘He’s just looking for attention’.
‘She’s a freak.’
‘Get over it! Just be happy!’
This is what people say all the time with regards to a person suffering with a mental illness. Comments like these can be very hard to hear. As a person who has grown up in a family with many people suffering with issues of mental health, it is horrible to hear how people cannot try and be more empathetic about someone’s illness instead of being so openly ignorant and derogatory, let alone how it must feel for the person receiving the abuse – it’s hard enough having to deal with a mental disorder without having to try and justify your struggle. These kind of attitudes could prevent someone from speaking up with how they feel as it is perceived as something shameful, or even false. Every day we are reminded how many people still fail to understand mental health issues and the devastating effect they can have on millions of people.
For a very long time in our history, there has been a huge amount of ignorance towards mental illness. Centuries ago, the most brilliant doctors and scientists around believed the best way to cure someone of such illness, was to shake it out of them, as it was seen as some sort of evil demon that lived inside of them. Luckily, in this day in age our doctors and scientists are much more knowledgeable on the disease and are battling it. However, the majority of the world is still so ignorant on the severity and depth of mental illness, making the suffering of many people even worse than it needs to be.
There is a certain atmosphere of embarrassment and ‘hushed tones’ when talking about mental illness. Of course, as a self educated person on the matter, I know this is definitely not true, as I view it just like it were cancer, an illness. This misconception needs to change, and a great way to do this is through educating people. I believe the most effective way to tackle the prejudice and stereotypes that come with mental illness is to raise awareness by educating people. It can be through school by structured lessons in PSHE related subjects or just calling someone out on it when they use incorrect language or share discriminative opinions. If we let people do it, people will take a lot longer to – or never – truly learn the effects words can have. It could save a life when a person makes a conscious decision to educate themselves on mental illness or stop questioning someone’s struggle. That’s where we are at, it is that vital.
One of the worst things I experience on a day to day basis is the generalisation of suicide. All the time I hear people use the idea of suicide as a way to express anger or even as a joke. For example, someone would say something like ‘Wow, I did so badly on that test, I’m gonna kill myself’ (then they tend to chuckle to themselves at how funny that was, and how truly legendary they think they are). Of course, most of the time people don’t actually mean they are going to, it’s just ‘an expression’, making people who have committed or attempted to commit suicide out to be foolish or over dramatic. And worse; when someone tells someone to kill themself. I’d ask them why they would ever find that acceptable and they would probably say ‘It’s not like they are actually going to’. Yet, suicide is the 10th leading cause of death in the world, and with every suicide there are an estimated 25 attempts. Yes, maybe that one comment didn’t lead to their suicide, but it’s not just one is it? It’s so many people, every single day. With other things weighing down on them, one comment, EVEN a joke, could lead to someone ending their life – do you want to be the cause of this?
It truly breaks my heart to think of a young person who is confused about their mental state or of someone they love, simply because people feel too awkward to discuss it openly, or are genuinely unaware of it. This is fairly common, as throughout history we’ve been conditioned to try and swallow our feelings and to ‘get over it’. No person should feel alone in something they are going through, or feel judged by others for how they feel. Nevertheless, this is where prejudice begins: ignorance.
Last summer, a wonderful man in the film industry passed away, Robin Williams. He was deeply suffering with depression and unfortunately committed suicide. Most responses to his death on social media were lovely; wishing the family their love and respect and just generally remembering all the great he did for the entertainment industry. However, I did come across some truly disgusting comments by anonymous people. Some included were: ‘the world has the right to know exactly how he died! What kind of man hurts his family and friends? Only a coward.’ As well as, ‘Why would he be depressed? I can’t see any bloody reason why he would be depressed!’ And finally ‘Why do people care so much? He deserved it. He killed himself. He deserves no pity or respect.’ The fact that people truly believe that with a successful career and money, a person cannot fall mentally ill shocks me. Not to mention that people suggest his final acts of desperation were selfish, irresponsible or uncalled for. If this does not demonstrate to people the lack of understanding we as a society have about mental illness then I cannot understand what will, and that’s only one example.
Depression is only one of many mental illnesses. From OCD to anorexia to schizophrenia, there is a whole range of serious disorders. And all come with such disgusting and clearly empty-headed stereotypes: all OCD sufferers just like to be tidy; people with anorexia are skinny (and female), and as soon as they have reached a healthy weight, it is suddenly ‘over’ or even that schizophrenic people are a danger to society. It is truly appalling that people are so ill informed on such things that can affect a huge portion of the population.
I hope people will one day gain the respect they deserve on their condition by being taught about it. I expect no one would pass judgement on an individual with a physical condition, so there must be that exact same expectation with mental illness.
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