Julianne Kucera, Campus Carrier social media director
We live in a society that has continuously stigmatized mental illnesses and fails to equate the importance of mental health to physical health. Generation Z has the largest rate of mental health concerns than any other generation, and they have allowed the topic of mental health to become more visible than ever before. Yet, too many people in our society buy into the idea that mental health and physical health are fundamentally different with mental health being the inferior of the two. Mental and physical health need to be approached and handled equally.
When someone is diagnosed with a physical illness, people rightfully offer a support system during their times of struggle. Phrases like “just breathe,” ”that’s college” or “there are people worse off than you” accomplish exactly the opposite of the intended purpose and instill a further sense of isolation, hopelessness and guilt in those struggling with mental illnesses. Stigmatizing mental health struggles is a dangerous act that can carry heavy and sometimes irreversible consequences.
These ill-conceived notions against mental health are not only costing those affected their health and happiness, but also contributing to over 48,000 lives lost in the U.S. every year. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), two out of every three people affected by mental illnesses do not get the help they need, and one of the most common causes for this massively detrimental statistic is the fear and shame induced by stigma, according to the National Center for Biotechnology Information (NCBI). Let that sink in… then, consider this: your actions and words have a direct impact on the suffering and recovery of others. Stigmas increase the real suffering imposed on those affected and permit the belittlement of mental illnesses.
For a person struggling with their mental health, the shame that comes with being labeled as lazy, incompetent, crazy, or incapable can continue to trap people in the cycle of their illness. In order to blur the line between mental and physical health, there are many things we can do to take a step in the right direction. A few great first steps would be to normalize the conversation, educate ourselves and others, listen, understand helpful and non-helpful dialects and know your resources.
Normalizing open conversation and acceptance regarding personal experiences with mental health struggles not only spreads awareness, but also extends the idea to others that they are not struggling alone. For those who have not experienced mental health struggles, listening and allowing yourself to learn about others’ experiences is crucial in order to reach a level of understanding and sympathy. Words of encouragement and comfort, while having good intentions, too often translate in a very negative way. If you are unsure of how to respond when someone struggling reaches out to you, it is more than okay to ask them what their boundaries are and what they want or need from you in that situation. However, telling someone with a diagnosed mental illness that your normal human experiences are the same as theirs might do more harm than good. Anyone can develop mental illnesses at any point, but regardless of a diagnosis or not, no one’s mental health struggles are identical and should not be compared. Whether you are struggling or witnessing someone else’s struggles, knowing what resources you have access to, whether they be for educational purposes or prevention purposes is imperative.
It is crucial that people recognize preconceived bias and educate themselves on how to support positive change. Partaking in these efforts promote a mentally healthy and inclusive community that supports stages of mental illnesses from onset to recovery. We must stop the stigmatization of mental health struggles and illnesses and support those who may need it. Stigmas do not foster prevention or recovery, but support and awareness do.