Mental health issues affect us all

Michaela Gawley, Opinions Editor

 

Recently in a yoga class during a difficult posture, the teacher remarked, “this is the real mental strength, this is about getting off the Prozac.”  I had to stop and take a deep breath before I could continue because I could not get over the offensive nature of that comment, from an individual who was allegedly “enlightened.”

I also had an experience this summer in a psychology class where another student explained how she wished she had anorexia and that she respected the self discipline that those individuals have.

I spent time doing research in a psychiatric hospital this summer and noticed that the individuals I encountered with eating disorders were debilitated and extremely ill, not excellent dieters.  However, these experiences were not unique and certainly do not make them bad people.

These examples just highlight the misconceptions and stigmas associated with mental illness that are commonplace in our society.

It is integral that as a society we take advantage of the knowledge that we now have about these illnesses to increase education and start conversations about these issues, in order to help those that are suffering.

Throughout history, those with mental illnesses have been thought of as possessed because those around them could not explain their behavior and were often times afraid of it.  When we are unaware of the way an illness works, or the way it can take over a person’s life and rob them of the person that they used to be, we become insensitive.  Any person who has watched a loved one experience this or dealt with it individually can certainly relate to the feelings of disconcertion that come with dealing with mental illness.  In the 1840’s, muckraker Dorothea Dix spent time undercover to investigate the horrible abuse that institutionalized mentally ill individuals were enduring.

Her efforts helped to establish the first psychiatric treatment center for the mentally ill and many other institutions that treated individuals in a humane manner.  Her efforts were the beginning of an era that has had great success by focusing on improving mental health treatments.

“I think that it is good that our health classes focus so much on debunking mental health myths and educating us on real facts,” said senior Sydney Heiden. “Sometimes talking about mental health can make people uncomfortable because they don’t understand it and find it disconcerting, so having a safe place to discuss these issues is really important.”

In order to keep up with these innovations, we need to focus our efforts on understanding mental illness and not letting ignorance or fear lead to marginalization.

According to the National Institute of Mental Health, one in four adults will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lives.  It is almost impossible to find someone who has not had a loved one suffer from these illnesses and who has not suffered themselves.  This makes it clear that there is no room in our society for casual jokes about mental illness, as these issues affect a large amount of our population.

A major component of stigma is simply in the way that we talk about those with mental illness. It is common to hear people referred to as schizophrenic or bipolar, and while it might not seem that casual language used in conversation perpetuates stigma, it really does.

When we refer to someone as “manic,” or “bipolar”, and describe them by their illness, we forget that it’s their sense of humor or intelligence that they are defined by, not their illness.  It’s much more sensitive to just say that they have this illness and talk about mental illness just the way you would about cancer or any other disease.

“I have worked in this district for 34 years and without a doubt there is much more awareness about mental health issues,” said school psychologist Dr. Dennis Meade.  “Openness has definitely increased but not necessarily the sensitivity.  I don’t think that casual remarks always come from stigma, I think that they come more from a place of thoughtlessness.”

As a school community and as a global community, we need to advocate for those with mental illness by refusing to treat those with mental illness any differently than we would treat anybody else.  This is the only way that our societal attitudes can progress as much as our medical treatments.