It may surprise you to know that one in four Americans suffer from mental illness, according to the National Alliance on Mental Illness.
That means you most likely have a close friend or family member with mental illness. You may not know it, though.
There is a very simple reason that you don’t know this about your friend or family: stigma. We are taught to believe that serious mental illness means “insane” and “assylums” and murderers.
Part of this misconception is related to the assumed severity of all mental illness. It really does not surprise me that people have these misconceptions. We see tragedies like the DC Naval Yard Shooting and the Sandy Hook incident and see that mental illness is tied to those tragedies. No wonder there is such a stigma about mental illness; it is easy to deem someone “unstable” and a “threat” when we hear that they have struggled with mental illness. However, serious mental illness can mean that you have daily struggles, but it doesn’t mean that someone is violent.
There is also stigma on the other side: people assume that being depressed is the same thing as having clinical depression, and suggest that some good sleep or a Pumpkin Pie Latte and chocolate will cure all. Then they wonder why, after six months, their friend still hasn’t come out to a party.
There is often a miscommunication about what mental illness means. Some people consider anyone who goes to the counseling center with a brief bout of depression as someone in this category. However, the face of serious mental illness is entirely different. By mental illness, I am talking about the people who deal with life-time struggles. I mean those who have to take medication, who see a psychiatrist, who struggle to get out of bed everyday.
There are basics that everyone should know about mental illness. There is a large mental illness spectrum, ranging from anxiety disorders to personality disorders. However, many people with mental illness function quite well with medication. The problem with stigma around mental illness is that it keeps people from getting help.
Some people with these illnesses may need to take medication. A lot of times though there are stigmas surrounding medication. Recognize that most often medication is what can allow a person to face their day—and even laugh and smile. It can be a huge gift for some people.
Having a mental illness is kind of like having a broken arm. It’s basically a little extra bulk that’s uncomfortable, you have to drag it around and it makes you crabby. But it’s just a little extra part of the awesome package of a person.
Because of the large stigma surrounding mental illnesses, many people are too afraid to come forward and identify as a member of this group. If you do learn that one of your friends is severely struggling, be an encouragement and a support for them. Try and accept that some negativity is probably a symptom, not a personality trait. For a lot of people dealing with severe anxiety and clinical depression simple things like getting up, showering and putting on an outfit is a major success. It is also often so tiring that they are ready to go back to bed. So if you see a friend with mental illness out at a party celebrate with them, they have just climbed a mountain.