2015 is going to be a year of change. 2015 is the year we need to talk about mental illness.
Mental illnesses are just like any other disease. Would you tell someone with cancer that “it’s just a phase” or someone with Cystic Fibrosis “you’re overreacting”? Hopefully not. So why is it so hard to treat someone with a mental disorder the same way you’d treat someone with any other physical disease?
For some reason our society has created a wall between what we can and can’t say about mental illness. If we were comfortable talking about these diseases, I’m sure that our generation would be much healthier.
According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, in the year 2000 suicide was the third most common cause of death for American teenagers and 90% of the teens who kill themselves had some kind of mental illness.
This is a problem, yet it is not being talked about enough. The Kim Foundation estimated that one in every four people will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. This means someone in your family, friend group or class has or will deal with some type of mental disorder in their life. Wouldn’t you want to help them rather than keep them from speaking out about their problems?
The brain is an organ, just as the heart is an organ – so why is there such a social divide between a disease in your heart and an affliction in your brain?
A mental illness is defined as a condition that causes serious disorder in a person’s behavior and thinking. Mental illnesses range from schizophrenia to bipolar disorder to anorexia to depression to anxiety and more.
Buzzfeed made a video showing what it would be like if we treated physical disorders like we treat mental disorders. They show several situations where someone is physically hurting and someone tells them to simply get over it.
If mental illnesses are so common, why is it so hard to talk about them? Usually people who suffer from mental illnesses are ashamed of their disease; they’re scared that if they open up about it they’ll be judged by their peers. But I’m telling you now, if we spoke and spread awareness about mental illness, we would have a much healthier community.
Freshman Paige Freeman did a TED talk on this same topic. She said, “If we imagine the stereotypical mentally ill person, it’s usually an unsociable, intellectually challenged individual that needs constant attention. Contrary to popular belief, this characterization is simply not true. While it is true that the phrase ‘mental disorder’ is basically synonymous with ‘mental instability,’ in reality people with mental disorders are forced to shove down their experiences whether due to societal expectations or adaption in the face of a chaotic mental state. This façade of normalcy leads to misconceptions about the prevalence of mental disorders.”
If you look at SAS, you see a happy and vibrant place. Success surrounds our students. That being said, sometimes the pressure of doing well can cause major stress among us. At times, the stresses of school, friends, clubs, and social life can be a major catalyst for depression and anxiety.
Sophomore Zoe Adamopoulos said, “I think that there is somewhat of a high level of performance stress for SAS students which can lead to various kinds of mental illnesses. However, as many experience similar stresses, you can easily open up to peers because they understand what it’s like. On the down side, when it comes to more serious cases, I feel like it’s hard to open up about those aspects because you feel like as if it’s something to be ashamed or embarrassed about.”
I have friends who’ve fallen into this cycle of depression and anxiety because of the pressures that surround them. Sometimes the biggest thing they’re scared of is not the mental illness, but the social stigma that is attached to the word “mental illness.” They’re afraid to speak out about their problems, even though there are people everywhere feeling the same way.
A misconception is that all mental illnesses are extreme and that those who have them are crazy. In reality, this is often untrue.
Counselor Sue Nesbitt emphasized this by saying,“The pilot with depression that drove the plane into the Alps, not everyone with depression is going to do that. They have families and children, they have successful lives. We need to hear more real stories rather than extreme stories.”
Hopefully next year, the stigma that follows mental illness in our culture will fade at SAS thanks to the new advisory system. As many of you know, advisory will be a safe place where students and their advisor can discuss topics that aren’t normally discussed in a classroom such as stress, anxiety and everyday challenges that we all face. The advisory system will be extremely helpful because it will create a safe space that will help students to feel comfortable raising social and emotional topics that are not usually addressed in classes.
YouTuber JacksGap perfectly explains how we should treat mental illnesses – just like any other disease. He says it’s time we talk.
At the end of the day, mental illness is a problem. It’s a problem that needs to be worked on, and it is a problem that we, as a society, have failed to acknowledge in a positive way. This year, we need to speak up about mental illness and shatter the silence that harbors the stigma.