Before September of 2018, I was someone that fed into the stigma surrounding mental health and illness. My best friend was very depressed, but no one knew. She decided that it was time – finally the end of all of her mental, emotional and physical pain. The next morning, another friend and I found her semi-conscious with an empty bottle of pills and immediately called for help. For five years, I watched my best friend suffer silently due to the negative stigmas surrounding mental health. One year later, she is fighting every day to be her best self. She taught me how to be an advocate for mental health. She made me want to end every stigma there is, just so she and many others can live a happy and peaceful life.
We live in a world that is full of stigma. A stigma is a created negative opinion on the different personal traits or characteristics about someone else (MFMER, 2019). When these stigmas are created, they can prevent the person that has the illness from seeking help. According to a study reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, there are about 3.5 million people whose mental health goes untreated daily. That is a very high number that must be brought down substantially. The only way we can do this is by ending the stigma surrounding mental health.
Next time you are in a crowded room, start counting off by fives; that fifth person represents someone suffering from mental illness.
Most forms of mental illness come from an imbalance of chemicals that are produced and released in the brain. Many people assume just taking antidepressants and going to therapy will make everything better. What many do not know is that the side effects of many antidepressants include suicidal thoughts. Outsiders assume that people with mental illness just use it as an excuse to not do things, or that everyone has some form of mental illness, but they push through it. Many people that do not have mental health illnesses have a hard time understanding the feeling of being trapped in your own head. When people think this way, a negative stigma is created regarding mental illness.
We need to change how we perceive mental health. In a conversation I had with a friend who has depression, I asked her something she would want to change regarding the way people speak or think about mental health, and her answer surprised me. She said she wishes her progress could be celebrated. For example, an acquaintance of ours just celebrated being one-year cancer free, yet my friend’s growth and progress is not as visible as someone whose hair is growing back following ending chemotherapy treatments. Not to say that she doesn’t deserve the celebration for her milestone, but my friend feeling as though she could not publicly celebrate her own triumphs because of the stigma surrounding mental illness was not a perspective I had considered before.
Next time you are in a crowded room start counting off by fives; that fifth person represents someone suffering from mental illness. You may know the fifth person, or you may not, but remember that someone is loved by someone else.
Shea Delaney is a fifth-year communication and media studies student at West Chester University. SD851488@wcupa.edu