Home Opinion Breaking the Stigma and Shame Around Mental Illness

Breaking the Stigma and Shame Around Mental Illness

by Chanila German

Silhouette of a woman sitting by a window in a dim room and holding her head.
Photo courtesy of Alachua County via Flickr

It is an unspoken rule in our society that we must remain quiet on the topic of mental illness. It is a rule that has been passed down from generation to generation. A dreadful tradition that we as a society need to break.

Fortunately, we have evolved as individuals in this society and are more knowledgeable about mental illness. Mental illness is no longer seen as public enemy number one as it was in past centuries when people knew little about mental health.

So why, in the 21st century, are we still committing our ancestors’ mistakes by condemning those with mental illness? Why are we talking about mental illness behind closed doors instead of more openly?

The reason for this is shame. We as a society hate to admit that we have imperfections. Therefore, when someone admits that they have a mental illness, we shame them into silence. It seems easier to hide the truth or better yet, not talk about it at all. Why? Because admitting our imperfections are frowned upon. We were taught to bury our problems and plaster a fake smile to gain society’s approval. For centuries, it seems that gaining society’s approval is more important than dealing with our mental health.

What society does not realize is that our mental health is just as important as our physical health. According to National Alliance on Mental Illness, one in five adults in the U.S. experiences mental illness. Just because we cannot see the damage as we would a physical problem does not mean we should not seek medical attention.

Actually, because we cannot see the damage we should talk about it even more. A doctor only needs to see a broken bone to know how to fix it. However, it is different when it comes to our minds. We need to talk about what is wrong so that a specialist can help us because our minds are not like our bones. Our minds need constant care unlike our bones that only need a cast to properly heal.

The first step of being more open about mental illness is removing the shame and stigma. There should be no shame about taking care of your mental health. Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and we need to start treating it as such. Let us remove “crazy” from our vocabulary. It is not the proper word to describe someone with a mental illness nor is it a kind word in general. “Crazy” was a word invented by those that did not understand the human brain.

In addition, let us not classify someone based on their mental illness. A diagnosis should not define someone. If someone has a mental illness, it does not mean we should chain them to their illness. No one is just one thing, and it is not fair to simply judge someone based on an illness.

Another important step is to identify the signs of a mental illness and seek help. All mental illnesses have their own symptoms and separate treatment. However, according to National Alliance on Mental Illness, an extreme amount of worrying and fear, a deep feeling of sadness, rapid mood change, avoiding social outings and a change in sleeping habits are common signs of a mental illness. Recognizing these signs can help someone obtain the treatment that they need and begin their recovery process.

There is not one right treatment for everyone, and it is important to find the right treatment that works for you. Schedule an appointment with the Counseling and Psychological Services (CAPS) office in Russ Hall to obtain more information or drop by the Let’s Talk session.

Let us remember the importance of our mental health and make it a priority. As a society, it is important to recognize mental illness and not shy away from it. We should no longer shame people for having a mental illness, and instead, we should support our fellow family and friends for seeking help. Let us break the stigma around mental illness and be better than the generations before us.

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