If you woke up one morning and had terrible pain somewhere in your body, you would want to go and have it checked out wouldn’t you? You would make an appointment with your GP, who would conduct some tests and ask you questions about your lifestyle. If it was something a bit more serious you could be sent to hospital to have surgery to have it fixed. After some recovery time you would slowly start doing the things you used to do before your injury. Things might not go back to 100% normal depending on your injury, but you would work to get it as close as possible.
Now imagine that pain being in your mind. Something that you may not physically see. Imagine the pain being constant voices in your head that aren’t your own, imagine that pain making you see things that others couldn’t, imagine that pain making you not want to continue living on a daily basis. Imagine the pain being so bad that sometimes you couldn’t get out of bed, you couldn’t continue to work, or continue to do things that you once enjoyed. You would want to have that checked out wouldn’t you?
There has been occasions where people have reached out to me regarding their mental health – and I applaud them for this as it’s not an easy thing to do. But something that I have noticed is that when I suggest that they seek help from their GP I get told “oh it’s not that serious”. Look, if it’s serious enough that you are thinking you might need some extra help there should be no shame in going to a professional. I’m pretty sure most of us at some point have gone to the doctor/nurse with some physical ailment that’s a little bit embarrassing (such as a random pimple somewhere is shouldn’t be!). So why are we still so embarrassed to go for our mental health?
Obviously the first reason that pops into our head is stigma. But I believe in the last couple of years, slowly but surely this is being broken down. Don’t get me wrong, it’s nowhere near gone. But I think people are becoming more and more aware on a daily basis. We have celebrities talking openly about their depression, anxiety, bipolar, addictions, and PTSD which I think has ever so slightly helped with the perception of these types of illnesses. But, I think the stigma is very much attached to those disorders which do not meet the “criteria” of the more common mental health disorders and the symptoms that go with them. I’m talking about psychosis, schizophrenia, personality disorders, hearing voices, obsessive compulsive disorder (don’t get me started on those who think just washing their hands twice is having OCD), prenatal & postnatal anxiety, premenstrual dysphoric disorder, suicidal ideation, self harming behaviours and eating disorders.
I think one of the main culprits of creating the stigma of mental illness is down to media. Think of those types of horror films that base their story line in a “lunatic asylum”. Why are we still using these out of date terms? Public perception of anyone with a mental illness is that they are dangerous, nasty, crazy, weird, and “need to be locked away”. They fail to realise that these people are not these things. They are brave, understanding, and more importantly, they are human. Any one of us can wake up in their position one day. Don’t get me wrong, some people are just not pleasant – and in some very rare cases this can be enhanced by their condition, but these are far less common than what is believed. Statistically 1 in 4 people suffer with a mental illness in their lifetime, do you really think that all of these people are dangerous?
I know that this post won’t fix the problem of mental health stigma, but I’m hoping it can help educate people and maybe have them think twice about sharing something negative online, whether it be a silly Facebook “who are you stuck in a mental institution with” quiz or believing everything they read about people who are deemed as “crazy”.
So yeah be kind, just make sure you aren’t only kind to those you decide are worthy of kindness.