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.