Alright, readers. This post took me a long time to formulate and I’ve rewritten it about 5 times before I finally trashed everything and started from scratch. How do I address a problem that everyone else has tried (and mostly failed) with for a really long time?
The problem is the stigma surrounding mental health.
1 out of every 2 people suffer from a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. This could be anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, anorexia nervosa, bulimia, personality disorders, suicide, substance abuse/addiction, bipolar disorder, ADD, ADHD, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), social anxiety, post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), etc.
1 out of every 2 people.
As a future primary care provider I will see multiple people walk through my door who smoke. Society has rallied around these people to help them out. There are ads on TV for this, taxes used as incentive to quit, bans in public places, etc. Smoking is clearly a problem and so we treat it as such. 1 out of 10 people currently smoke in Ohio.
Clearly we can see that mental health is a much more prevalent issue, so why is it typically swept under the rug? … Well, it’s because of this stigma that mental health isn’t real. That it only occurs in the mentally weak. That these people are crazy.
If anyone has ever thought any of those thoughts, I’m sorry that you’re so ignorant. Let’s see if the following example can’t help with some clarity:
Hypertension (High blood pressure). A very real thing. A thing that occurs if you maybe don’t exercise as much as you should and eat as well as we all wish we did. Little particles of cholesterol can damage our veins and start sticking to the insides. A more narrow lumen means higher pressures our hearts have to push against. Or maybe it’s because you’re veins are affected by increased levels of cortisol from stress. Or maybe you’re just unlucky and do everything right, yet that long family line of high blood pressure gets to you before you had a chance. Multiple factors cause hypertension and it’s still not a clearly understood phenomenon.
High blood pressure. A real condition caused by imbalances within the body. Society accepts this.
Depression. A very real thing. Little neurotransmitters in our brain called serotonin, dopamine, and others start to not stick where they should or in other illnesses stick too much. ( A very simplified explanation for an illness not yet even clearly explained). Whether a life event spurred this or a long family line of mental illnesses did it, Multiple factors cause and effect depression and it’s still not a clearly understood phenomenon.
Depression. A real condition caused by imbalances within the body. Society generally does not accept this.
My view on mental illness is that everyone has a touch of something. And instead of viewing this as a weakness, we should instead view it as our shared humanity. Our shared weaknesses. Every portion of the human body is subject to sickness. GERD in the belly, chrons in the intestines, pancreatic malfunctions causing diabetes, cholesterol clogging the arteries and veins… So what makes us think the brain, the most complex organ of the whole human body, is exempt from experiencing multiple illnesses itself? It’s science. And while I might not understand what someone with a particular mental illness is going through, I can at least appreciate that, whatever it is, they are in need of a helping hand and currently society’s view of mental illness is anything but.
Only by acknowledging that mental health is a real illness, can we open the door to helping people escape it.