Mental Health Stigma

mentalillnessThis will be my fiftieth post on Cognitive Consonance and because I wanted to make it special by posting something engrossing and clever, I just ended up not posting anything at all. I put far too much pressure on myself, argh! Instead of trying so hard, I am just going to discuss something really important to me personally.

As I think is quite common with people interested in the field of psychology, I have and still continue struggle with depression and anxiety. I am not trying to evoke pity or sympathy because in actual fact, I am quite proud of how far I have come in the past 2 years. It takes quite a long time to learn to accept that you have a disease or disorder and that it is not just all in your head (ha, a pun! :P). Allowing yourself to be treated might make you feel like a failure; like there is something wrong with you because you just can’t get over your problems by yourself. It takes a great deal of strength to recognise that something is wrong.  I believe this is true for more than just mental disorders. Suffers of any ailment go through a period of denial. In fact, denial is the only stage of the Kuebler-Ross model that has been proven to be universal. I believe that the first step of any form of recovering or acceptance is recognising that something is wrong because it means admitting that you are vulnerable. Personally, I struggled with feelings of guilt. I felt like I had no reason to feel unhappy or anxious and that I should just get over myself. The truth is that a mental disorder, like any other medical ailment, needs to be treated. Treatment of course does not always mean in the form of medication. In fact, numerous types of mood disorders as well neuroses, have been treated very successful with cognitive-behavioural therapy.

mentalillness1I digress, in November I posted an ‘Inspiring Video‘ on schizoaffective disorder by a youtuber called Jonny Benjamin as part of the “I’m JustHuman Project.” In the video he discusses his experience with schizoaffective disorder and its impact on his life. However, more importantly his video is part of a project to reduce the stigma that surrounds mental health issues. Many people today mistake the symptoms of schizophrenia for depression and those of depression with a physical ailment (Myers 2001). Furthermore, a large majority of the population think that mental illness equals violence. In truth, most people that suffer from mental illness are no more violent than the rest of the population. The differences are easily accounted for by the symptoms of certain kinds of disorders, specifically the paranoia of paranoid schizophrenia or the lack of empathy seen in psychopaths. Just like certain personality types are more likely to engage in criminal behaviour, such as narcissistic or aggressive people, so are people with certain types of disorders. What I am trying to say is that there is no reason for the fear and stigma that surrounds mental illness.

mentalillness2Lastly, I want to say that mental illness in most cases is something that you cannot see from outside. Just like many who suffer from autism express frustration with the fact that they look normal but feel different, this frustration

is also common with people suffering from mental disorders. Those of us who have suffered from anxiety and depression learn how to conceal the truth. One of my closest friends showed up at the same mood disorder support meeting as me. Neither one of us had any clue the other person was going through the same thing. I believe that says a lot because the truth of the matter is that we are not so different from anyone else. Keeping that in mind, I feel it is important to be kind, supportive and patient to whomever you can because you never truly know what people are going through. Dealing with disorders such as depression, panic disorder, generalised anxiety disorder, OCD, etc. can easily be concealed and is a personal issue, but at the same time there is no reason to feel ashamed. We are in fact just like everybody else, the only difference is that we have deal with issues that impact our day-to-day lives. It is a struggle but one that is more than worth enduring.