Destigmatizing mental illness

In our culture lots of people feel much worse about seeing a psychotherapist than they do about seeing a dentist or an eye doctor, and many feel way more ashamed and embarrassed about needing help for depression or anxiety, then they do about needing help with cancer or heart disease.

Comedienne Ruby Wax, points out that you might reasonably expect cards or flowers  when you’re “sick” but you just get told to  “perk up” when you’re depressed. As she points out, maybe this is because we can’t point to an x-ray or a blood test to show people when we’re “sick” with anxiety, or bipolar, or bulimia. But really, all that proves is that we don’t have the right testing equipment – not that mental illnesses aren’t just as real and legitimate as pneumonia, diabetes, or a broken bone.

The media has played a part in portraying people with mental illness in very stereotypical ways: they’re shown as dangerous, or lazy, or weak, or  “whiners” who just want attention. While it’s possible that someone with a mental illness could be lazy, for example, so can someone without a mental illness! People with mental illness are no more likely to have negative traits or qualities than people without. These stereotypes might make for good television shows, but they leave the real people who struggle feeling very misunderstood and ashamed of their illness.

We also have lots of misconceptions about how to get better.  If someone is struggling with cancer, we encourage that person to see an oncologist, and to take powerful drugs like chemotherapy if it might help, and to take time off work or school to let themselves heal. But when it’s an addiction or an eating disorder or some other mental illness, some people think they should be able to get better on their own, without professional help or medication and that they should be able to do this on top of work/school/relationships! Doesn’t that seem like a double standard?

I hope the contradiction is just due to a lack of accurate information and can be easily corrected so that we support someone with an illness in their brain just as we would if someone had an illness in their body! To that end, I’ve included a list of sites that provide ACCURATE information about all kinds of mental illnesses and the people who struggle, survive and even thrive with them! There is also a link here to my radio show, Open Minds, which offers interviews with both mental health professionals and  everyday people who have experienced mental illness in themselves, a friend or a family member. Finally, there are also links here that will point you to advocacy and awareness groups that could use your support!