Something that really bugs me is the language around mental illness – I think this is one of the reasons why there is so much stigma, fear and misinformation. Changing the way we speak about mental illness is, in my opinion, one of the most important ways to counter society’s ignorance about anything to do with mental health.
How often do you hear these words? “He’s crazy”, “she’s psycho” or “she’s gone totally schizo on me”. I hear these phrases being bandied about all the time. I hear something like this almost daily where I work.
But – would someone be as uncaring to say something like “I’m getting really tired of this cancer of yours” or “What?! You mean there is someone with cystic fibrosis just walking around? Can’t we lock these people up?” or “I have to work late now because Joe has had a heart attack or something. Some people will do anything to get out of work”.
Just think about that. These kinds of statements would make anyone seriously unpopular. Yet – the same standards don’t apply for someone who has clinical depression, anxiety, bipolar, etc.
What if we treated every illness the way we treat mental illness? Why isn’t mental illness treated with the same level of compassion as any other chronic illness – because that is what mental illness is – a chronic condition just like diabetes.
I know how frightening it is to be in a room where this kind of stuff is said – the fear of people finding out and the associated stigma is sometimes worse than living with this condition. But then I read something that says “your fear of stigma is part of the illness”. And that got me thinking. Why must I be silent about what I’m struggling with? This is my story. This is my reality. This is why I recently decided to add a photograph of myself to my ‘about’ page. Why should I hide? It starts with me – I have to treat myself with the same respect and concern I would show to a cancer patient. Depression is just a chemical imbalance, it isn’t a flaw in my character.
I found this awesome little video on Huffingtonpost.com. It illustrates what happens to your brain if you are depressed. It was posted on a YouTube channel ASAPScience.Take a look at it if you can – it is only about three minutes long.
The narrator makes some valid points:
Depression is not a bad mood. It is a biological reality and a medical condition, and when we talk about it as anything less than that, we belittle the people suffering from it.
This is why many of us living with depression don’t tell anyone.
Depression is a disease with a biological basis, along with psychological and social implications. It’s not simply a weakness that somebody should get over.
Someone once told me that I should get over feeling so down and I should be grateful for what I have – this is just about the worst thing you can say to someone who is depressed.
The people who fight depression and its symptoms sounds like the opposite of weak. That kind of fight takes major strength.
I couldn’t agree more – living with depression takes major courage and I have so much respect for anyone who is on this journey. Remember how far you’ve come and all the battles you’ve won.