Stigma and Mental Health
Yesterday I was on Facebook on a site related to fashion. The issue of mental health came up in reference to a scholarly article about the wearing of multiple layers of clothing being related to schizophrenia. Many people responded to the post stating that it was insensitive and it triggered them. I found this to be fascinating.
Mental illness is a subject that we are talking more openly about. People however are often woe to admit that they have a mental illness. This is due to the fear of judgement. The fear of being excluded or limited because of the assumptions people may make of mental illness. The truth is that people are afraid of being outcast due to their illness.
There was a time that if you had certain skin diseases you were cast out of society and forced to live impoverished on the streets or worse you were cast out of the city altogether. Fortunately we do not view physical illness in this way anymore, in fact we often have large charitable events to benefits and seek cures for them. We as a society would like to view ourselves as having moved beyond banishing our ill. Have we?
If you hear that someone is Schizophrenic do you seek to understand the illness or do give the person a wide berth and refer to them as the "crazy" person at the end of the street? If someone has depression do you treat them differently? Have you ever accused someone of using depression as an excuse? What about anxiety? Have you ever seen someone have a panic attack and stared at them?
The truth is that mental illness is very common. I would argue that every human being will be affected by some type of mental illness in their lifetime either personally or through a close family member. We still don't see it as what it is, an illness, one that needs treatment much like cancer. We often view it as the "fault" of the individual. We make judgements. We don't hold huge walks to find cures for schizophrenia and depression. We do have suicide walks. The estimated percentage of the population diagnosed with depression is 7%. This does not account for all of the individuals who just never seek treatment. The percentage of the population diagnosed with breast cancer is 12% and MS is 1-3%.
Stigma around mental illness prevents us from seeking treatment, speaking openly, and seeking cures. We must begin to see each other as humans with various strengths and weaknesses. We must begin to view mental illness as what it is, an illness. It does not define a person anymore than cancer does.