January 18, 2016

You miss school because you need a mental health day and people will ask you what was wrong and you’ll lie about it. For a moment you’ll hesitate, maybe tell the truth - but then, before you know what you’re doing, you’re lying and saying that you just had a migraine. You didn’t have a migraine. It’s then that you realise that you’re ashamed of your mental illness, embarrassed even, and you don’t know why. Maybe, it’s because mental illnesses are so often invalidated, deemed as unreal and ‘all in your head’ (where else is it supposed to be?). There are choruses of ‘they’re just attention seeking’ or ‘you’re not even trying to get better’ and ‘just cheer up’, plastered across the minds of society, in response to mental illness.

We still treat mental illness differently from physical illness 

This seems to be in direct contrast to the attitude towards physical illness. Imagine you have a computer and there is a prominent crack etched into the screen, and then imagine the same computer, but with a software issue instead. There’s a problem with both the computers so they can’t work efficiently, but the only difference is that with one, you can see a crack on the screen, while the other’s exterior seems perfectly fine. Now, apply this same idea to a human being. The crack on the screen is a physical injury - a broken leg or arm, that everyone can see, while the software problem is the mind - the hub of mental illness. We can easily see the physical illness, the broken screen, but with mental illness, the scrambled software, there isn’t any cast to sign or crutches to use. Perhaps the fact that it’s all internal and practically invisible to the outer world, explains why it is deemed as less important and not as big of an issue.

Ironically, this anonymity also makes it more dangerous. It's also interesting to point out that computer users tend to become frustrated with their device when the problem isn’t immediately apparent, hidden amongst lines of coding within software, and shouting at the computer in frustration, despite the fact that it won’t fix anything. This mirrors the attitude that is commonly presented towards victims of mental disorders, with people sometimes becoming irritated and impatient that the person’s illness isn’t written all over them and they can’t figure out what is going on in their head. Physical illness is constantly held as something of higher importance than mental illness, especially in environments where attendance is seen as incredibly important.

A day off for a sickness bug at school is widely seen as a more legitimate reason to miss a day, with other reasons being seen as you just being ‘lazy’ or ‘skiving’; too often does it feel like students have to choose between their mental health and their education. You wouldn’t tell a person with a broken leg to ‘just run’ to fix their problem, and in the same way you can’t tell someone with depression to ‘get over it’. The fact of the matter is, people die from both mental and physical illness, but one cause is easier to see as a killer.

Mental illness doesn't discriminate

The stigma of ‘you can’t be mentally ill, so many people have it worse than you’ is also a prominent idea. It’s true; people do have it worse. In the world right now, a child has just lost their parents, a teenager is homeless and shivering on the streets and someone is taking their very last breath. In reality, emotions are a spectrum that we can all exist on and yours are not any less significant because someone else has them too. Invalidating someone’s mental illness isn’t going to make them suddenly cured and mental illness is indiscriminate, no matter who you are. It isn’t caused by the person suffering, nor is it some sort of punishment. Someone can have an idealistic, picture perfect life, but still be a victim of depression. There aren’t terms and conditions, or an instruction manual to follow when it comes to humans and that includes mental illness.
Mental illness is rife in our everyday talk, yet at the same time, we are yet to start the conversation. You hear people every day with the casual exclamation of ‘are you mental?’ or ‘you look so depressed’, yet we feel awkward when we’re told that 1 in 5 young people suffer from a mental illness, (our classmates, the people we pass by in the corridor). When did ‘crazy’ become a synonym for mentally ill? When did OCD come to mean no more than a preference for organisation? When did bipolar start to mean indecisive? When did mental disorders become adjectives? For some reason, we’re fine to use the words, but the context behind them is still an uncomfortable one and, the more we refuse to talk about it, the deeper and deeper we dig ourselves into silence.

Feeling ashamed for having an illness you can’t control needs to end - as does the feeling of awkwardness surrounding the subject. It’s time to stop the mentality that people with mental illnesses are broken in some way or that they aren’t any less whole. They don’t need someone to fix them and put them back together: they’re not jigsaw puzzles - they’re human. 

Share your story

Too many people are made to feel ashamed. By sharing your story, you can help spread knowledge and perspective about mental illness that could change the way people think about it.