Today I was going through old drafts for blog posts, and this was number one. Last semester in my Personal and Social Adjustment psychology class, we discussed mental illness, and it made my eyes well up with tears. We were given questions to answer before we broke into small groups for discussion. Finally, we came back together as a class for further discussion.
The questions immediately hit me. The stigma is so real. Nobody in the class really laughed or made immature comments; for the most part, everyone was understanding. Many had either experienced or knew someone who was experiencing some sort of mental disorder. However, the stigma I felt about myself hit hard.
The thing about mental illness is that every case is unique. I think the term “mental illness” brings certain disorders to mind, but the fact is that there are different types of mental disorders. Take a look at the DSM, and you’ll see many possible disorders affecting such a wide variety of people. Each person’s situation is different, so judging people who are based on a diagnosis alone doesn’t make much sense. Two people may be diagnosed with one disorder, but their symptoms may be on opposite sides of the spectrum. Maybe that’s one reason some people find it so hard to admit they have a mental disorder–they are afraid of the stereotypes that come with diagnosis.
Personally, I think people who have sought treatment for mental illness are probably better adjusted than those who have not; they have learned problem solving skills. Compare a person like that to someone who self-medicates; one is receiving professional treatment and is using various methods to cope with their feelings. Those who self-medicate have fairly ineffective methods. So why do we as a society welcome those who self-medicate and shun those who face their problems head on?
Finally, when I looked around that class, my heart was happy to see people who are accepting, who do not view mental illness as something to be hidden. These people were open about their experiences and expressed concern for others. I’ve never understood how you can look at someone struggling and shrug, say, “They’re crazy/weird,” and walk away. How can they not see people need help? How can they not address the struggles of others? Not only did my classmates sympathize, but some students even nodded in agreement as I spoke about my OCD, saying they too had done some of the things I thought made me crazy. That class as a whole was a great experience, a highlight in a bleak semester, a class I will not soon forget.