Bodies get sick. They get colds, cancer, diseases. If we can, we go to the doctor to get help and no one questions it. But what about when your mind gets sick?
Mental illness is defined as “a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior” by the Mayo Clinic. Some of these conditions include depression, eating disorders, schizophrenia, personality disorders and anxiety disorders.
“Many people have mental health concerns from time to time,” according to the Mayo Clinic. “But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.”
Maybe this isn’t news to you. Maybe you’re thinking, okay, sure — some people have depression. It’s a thing that happens.
You’re not wrong. We talk a lot more openly about mental illnesses today than we ever have. But the reality is that it’s probably more prevalent than you think. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimates that depression alone affects more than 26 percent of adults in the United States. The CDC also predicts that depression will be the second leading cause of disability in the world by the year 2020.
Clearly this is a problem. But the stigma around mental illness stops many people from seeking the help they need.
Because mental illnesses typically don’t include physical symptoms, it’s easy for others to write off a person’s condition. Many of us, like it or not, have a “don’t believe it unless I see it” complex, which makes it hard for us to be sympathetic or understand when someone tells us they are struggling with mental illness. If someone has, for example, serious social anxiety and doesn’t want to go out somewhere, we might be tempted to tell them to “get over it” and/or “face their fears.”
In reality, making someone with a mental illness “face their fears” isn’t going to help.
There are options for people struggling with mental illness to get help, but it is not always easy to do so. We don’t always know how to ask for help, to begin with. And imagine how difficult it would be to try to explain to someone what you’re going through. Sure, it might be difficult to find the right words, but it’s probably also difficult just to talk about it because of the stigma that comes with having a mental illness and wanting to seek treatment. Just hearing or reading the term “mental illness” probably brings to mind a number of stereotypical images that we’ve received throughout our lives. Someone who is struggling with an illness may hesitate to ask for help out of fear of being perceived as one of these stereotypes.
Two important parts of challenging the stigma surrounding mental illness are listening and compassion. If someone is having a hard time with something, listen to them if they want to talk about it (and don’t force them to if they don’t want to talk). Never force anyone to do something they don’t want to do, and do your best to be compassionate towards people’s feelings or struggles. Imagine how much easier it would be for you to tell someone about your issues if you felt you could trust them to listen to you without judgment or fear of being reduced to a stereotype.
Students of Franklin College, we can play a role in ending the stigma around mental illnesses. Can we alone be the sole force in doing so? No, realistically. But every little step forward helps. Take people seriously and do your best to reserve your judgments when you don’t understand someone’s struggle.
Only 17 percent of adults in the United States are “considered to be in a state of optimal mental health,” according to the CDC. This is a number we can work.
And if you feel like you need help or need to talk to someone, reach out to a faculty or staff member or someone in the counseling center if you feel comfortable.
The editorial board represents the opinion of The Franklin and its staff members. The board meets once a week to discuss pressing issues relevant to Franklin College students. Meetings are moderated by Ann Gilly, the opinion editor. Board members are seniors Emily Metheny and Olivia Covington and juniors Paige Clark and Caitlin Soard. Ellie Price, the executive editor, sits on the editorial board. If you have an issue you would like the editorial board to consider, please feel free to email Ann Gilly at email@example.com.