“We really need to normalize people being depressed.”
“It’s totally OK to be depressed right now.”
“Mental illness is serious, we need to prioritize it.”
I’ve heard all of these lines, which is great, until I hear:
“Oh my god, this year has been so bipolar.”
“I was totally manic and dyed my hair.”
For the most part, my peers and those I follow on social media seem to understand that mental illness must be destigmatized. But in my experience, the only mental illnesses that people make a concerted effort to destigmatize are anxiety and depression. It seems that even though more people are aware of mental illness and the importance of taking care of mental health, many people do not extend their understanding and compassion past the few illnesses that have been talked about most. We can’t have it both ways – we cannot tell each other that it’s OK to be depressed, then throw in a quip about being “psycho” a minute later.
Mental health has been brought to the forefront of our attention in recent years, and especially since the onset of COVID-19, but I could not feel further from the discussion. I do not experience illnesses, like anxiety and depression, that always seem to make it to an Instagram infographic. I’m left experiencing illnesses my friends and family do not completely understand. We can only make sense of mental illness if we recognize that there is more than anxiety and depression. We must work to educate ourselves on that and completely destigmatize having a mental illness.
When people talk about destigmatizing mental health and mental illnesses, chances are, they are talking about certain disorders like anxiety and depression that have been highlighted in movies and television and not about all mental illnesses. Depression and anxiety tend to be most often discussed in the conversations around mental illness destigmatization, while someone experiencing Borderline Personality Disorder is more often cast aside by society and sometimes mental health professionals. The same goes for sicknesses, like psychosis and schizophrenia – they’re less commonly talked about because society views them as shameful. But if we want to end the stigma around these mental illnesses, we need to develop a deep understanding of all of them.
In reality, we have not really destigmatized mental illnesses. People still call someone acting off a “psycho” or “bipolar,” belittling those who actually suffer from these illnesses. People have paid more attention to grasping the difference between stress and anxiety or sadness and depression than illnesses they know little to nothing about. All mental illnesses have not been destigmatized because society – and that includes students, professors and officials – is not broadening the discussion around mental illness to include them all.
As someone who suffers from a serious mental illness that is not depression or anxiety, I have not felt that I can speak out about my illness because it has not really been destigmatized, as much as people say they are sympathetic. People toss around terms like “psycho” and “bipolar” as if they are adjectives and not chronic illnesses. It has been especially difficult to hear someone tell me that mental health is important until someone displays symptoms of mental illness that is outside their realm.
Perhaps support for these illnesses is not equal to that given to depression and anxiety because they are rarely talked about. And when someone does talk about it, it feels uncomfortable. To change these perceptions and destigmatize all mental illnesses, we need to educate each other. While it should not be up to those living with mental illnesses to explain their condition to everyone, it is important that people listen to each other and learn from each other. People should take five minutes and reach out to the people in their lives, or even just look up information online.
Lending support and learning about the conditions that impact one in five adults is the first step to making everyone feel comfortable in this world.
Hannah Thacker, a senior majoring in political communication, is the opinions editor.