illustration by Aimee Brooks

In the American mind, there is a stigmatized vision of what someone who has a mental illness looks like. They look “crazy.” When I disclose the fact that I have a mental illness to people I just meet, they usually respond with “Really?” or “You’re kidding, right?” I do not “appear” mentally ill. But mental illness is not a visible disability. No one wears a sign that says; “Hi, I have depression” or “Hi, I self-harm.”

Stigma against mental illness is perhaps one of the most prevalent forms of discrimination within our country today. Ignorance breeds fear, which in turn breeds stigmatization and discrimination. This stigma is born from the idea that the mind is separate from the body, when in reality; the brain can become ill just like any other organ.

The most dangerous thing about the stigma against mental illnesses is that the stigma prevents people from getting the help that they need. People are too afraid to reach out because of fear of being judged and rejected. This fear causes people to resort to extreme actions, instead of just reaching out for help.

I want to live in a world where I can tell anyone I have depression and anxiety, without having them hold me at arm’s length.  I want to live in a world where everyone with a mental illness does not fear being treated as less than human. I want this world to realize that mental illness cannot be defined as “psycho.”

Mental illness comes in many forms. It is not just a person talking to the wall. It can be a person refusing to get out of bed, a person crying. People cannot “snap out” of their mental illness. If they “push themselves” it will not go away. Mental illness affects all of us. One in four Americans have a mental illness, so think about that the next time you call somebody crazy or weird. They are most likely struggling more than you could ever realize.

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July 11, 2013