Although a big topic of controversy and notoriety in recent years, mental illness is something many of us are often still weary of directly talking about. When thinking of mental illness, many people would imagine millennials, “snowflakes,” crying depression to get attention. The truth is, mental illness is a spectrum. Different people suffer to different degrees, and it’s always valid. Sadly this also comes with an array of stigma and assumptions that need to be tackled.
The reason for common stereotyping of mental disorders and illnesses boils down to one thing; lack of education. People fear what they don’t understand. Now to clarify, The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illnesses as follows: “Health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior.” So, as you can see, that’s quite a broad grouping. Two of the more common forms of mental illness are Anxiety/Panic disorders, and Clinical Depression. While most of us know a general definition of these, false assumptions can affect how people may judge those who are suffering.
Mental illness, in one form or another, is extremely common. Treating it as if it’s odd, or that all sufferers are “weird” or “delusional” is not only harmful, but incorrect. In a given year, 1 out of 5 Americans suffer from mental health problems, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness. That means if you took only five people from your very own school or job, theoretically one of them would be suffering from some form of mental illness. That’s a lot. As unfortunate as it is that so many people have to deal with this, it’s important that others know just how common it really is so they don’t think of it as the totally abnormal thing that many people do.
Depression/anxiety doesn’t just mean someone is sad or nervous and it doesn’t mean someone is looking for attention. Depression is mostly defined as a general feeling of hopelessness, and/or loss of interest in things that you used to look forward to. Some people diagnosed with depression have described it as feeling like there’s no point in going about your day. Metaphorically it’s been compared to a constant, dark rain cloud above your head, while the people around you bask in sunlight.
Anxiety Disorders can sometimes be described as an overwhelming, sometimes life-controlling feeling of anxiousness and panic. These can also lead to anxiety/panic attacks, which have been said to cause people to feel like they can’t breathe because it gets so bad. (Symptoms and severity depend on the person, everyone is different). Both depression and anxiety are very real and deserving of validity. If you’re not a sufferer, you may just decide it’s all in their heads. But people who do have these mental health issues don’t get to doubt their existence for a second. They don’t have that luxury.
According to Dr. Roxanne Dryden-Edwards of Johns Hopkins Hospital, Clinical Depression effects about 20% of teenagers by the time they turn 18, and that’s just what’s reported. A common assumption about people -especially teens- who suffer from mental illness is that they just want pity or for people to think of them with a sense of tragedy or romanticism (which is perpetuated by the rose-colored glasses the media often displays these mental health issues through). Misconceptions cause people to think negatively about sufferers of mental illnesses, but these people aren’t scary or strange. Living with mental health issues is hard enough without having to worry about the judgement and stereotypes people deal with because of it.
The sad reality is that those who struggle with mental health issues are often truly grappling and feeling lost. They’re sometimes in need of treatments like therapy or medication. The judgement that surrounds them and makes them feel ashamed or embarrassed about something they can’t control is just another weight on their shoulders, so please, be open-minded and don’t add onto it. We all just want to feel good about ourselves, right?