Why We Need to Break the Stigma Against Mental Illness Now
Physical vs. mental illness
When you have the common cold, what happens? Internally you have sniffles, a headache, coughing, the dreaded, clogged sinuses, accompanied with the endless runny nose. Externally? You hear, "Awe! Feel better.” “Do you need some cough medicine?” “Tea will help!" Why? Because the common cold is accepted. It is merely a virus that runs rampant for a few days, uncontrollable until your immune system hails a charge after calling in the cavalry, crushing the virus beneath its swarm of T-cells.
What happens when it comes to depression? Or anxiety? Internally, there can exist an extreme range of symptoms from lacking energy to get out of bed to crippling anxiety; your heart feels like it might explode right out of your chest. Externally you'll hear, "You should have some tea." Or, "I don't know why you're getting so worked up." Unfortunately, statements like these are pretty common these days. When in reality, they do little to validate one's own mental illness. To someone who has schizophrenia, or paranoid delusional episodes, we don't merely tell them to get tea or calm down. It's addressed as a mental disorder, and treated as such.
300 million people
Why are we so desensitized to other mental illnesses? Because they don’t exhibit extreme behaviors? According to the World Health Organization, over 300 million people worldwide suffer from depression. Surely that is a number well beyond a cause for concern. I myself know both of these illnesses too well. As someone who, for years, has struggled with both anxiety and depression, I know the reality that comes with them. The first time I had a panic attack I had no clue what was happening. My heart rate was out of control, I was hyperventilating, and felt like I saw the world through a fisheye lens. Originally, I was told I had low blood sugar with a bad reaction to pre-workout, and so for nearly two years I made sure to eat extra thinking these would help stem the tide of my mental disasters.
What if we accepted these illnesses? What if we validated them as actual diseases instead of forcing people to feel like they’re crazy? It's easy to say, "It's all in your head" because it is, right? When we have a heart attack, do we tell that person it's all in their heart? No, because something went wrong with that organ, in this case a myocardial infarction. What is wrong with admitting that the brain is not functioning properly? That while the issue is "in their head," it is important to note it is not within one's own consciousness. We aren't choosing to be this way, having some dark corner of our minds make this decision.
Feel good chemicals
You might be asking, "Okay, then what is depression?" Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain, usually a lack of serotonin. That giant nerve processing center inside our skull? It’s not working right, just like an engine with a misfire. With time and effort, it is most certainly within our realm of repairing, but to each individual that time is different. Some days we don't want to get out of bed, or can't enjoy our true passions because there is zero feel good chemical in our brain telling us life is great. Depression is dangerous because it is easy to hide, and belittling those feelings backs you into a corner making you doubt yourself, which makes the hole deeper.
The same goes for anxiety. Anxiety is your brain in full flight or fight response while your body sits still, living its usual day in the life of you. That quickly changes though, as the adrenaline surges, hormones kick in, heart rate elevates and your normal breaths become panicked shallow breathing. Anxiety is a trigger, on a conscious or subconscious level, that makes our deepest fears force our brain to run, but with nowhere to go. If you have never experienced a panic attack imagine this: you walk to your usual destination, taking that same flight of stairs.
Only this time, you fall.
Your heart leaps from your chest, that fear in your brain runs rampant increasing your heart rate, scrambling to catch yourself and prevent the dreaded disaster of pain. You catch yourself though, and you breathe in that sweet release, right? Knowing everything is okay and you avoided that painful, and most likely embarrassing, tumble down the stairs. Only with anxiety, imagine being caught in the moment, but without a railing to hold onto, and you never stop falling.
You are valued
These do not have to be negative things. Accepting these things, and understanding them, can bring your character through such strides. One of my biggest triggers, resulting in days I was exhausted from pretending to smile around friends or would trigger moments I'd shiver in my spasms from lack of oxygen due to my hyperventilation, was the simple thought I wasn't good enough. This year, I went down the rabbit hole to find out why, and I sit here today writing after days of genuine happiness as I let my joy fall into no one's hands but my own.I love who I am and I wouldn’t change a thing.
With this article there are two things I hope to spread:
The first: be aware, be aware of mental illnesses. They exist even behind the most genuine smiles, so please be kind and do not belittle the fears and issues someone else is going through, because perspective is our reality. Try to be understanding and patient and urge those forward out of the trenches of disorder.
The second: if you suffer from a mental illness, you are valued, you matter, your illness is valid and let no one tell you differently. Press on, and journey through your own rabbit hole.
Each of us are made of atoms, forged in the deep core of the brightest stars. Let nothing steal that shine from you, not even yourself.