It remains difficult for some to fathom the weight of stigmatization that is carried on the backs of the millions diagnosed with mental illness each year. Mental illness is, indeed, an illness. A disorder of the mind that equally affects the body. Mental illness is something that can make living day to day extremely difficult, painful (both emotionally and physically), and nearly impossible.
As most of us in the mental illness community know, we will at some point face the typical questions that stigma has gifted the public yet plagued us with.
“Maybe you’re just sad. You’ll get over it.”
“You have control of your brain! You’re just not trying.”
“Oh go take your ‘medication'”
The stigma is dangerous. It is malicious. It takes validated, personal experiences and equates it to the importance of the common cold. I have experienced this personally first hand in my high school.
Going to school became an impossibility for me when my anxiety and depression spiked highly. Instead of being offered help and assistance, I was punished and ridiculed. When I left school in order to receive treatment for my illnesses, I was expelled. They would not take me back even though my illnesses have as much validation as any other bodily dysfunction. This is because treatment for mental illness is considered, by the vast majority, as a want rather than a need. It is a luxury of relaxation, whereas with a “real” illness, it is a struggle and it deserves treatment with compassion and heart.
It is hard to break stigma. Especially when one has been built up for over 80 or so years. But we must try. We must be our own advocates when others back away. We must tell those we work for, love, and provide for that what we experience is as real as the air we breathe. It is a difficult road. But we all have voices. And all of our voices, no matter our diagnosis, deserve to be heard and respected.