Steps to Stomp out Stigma
During passing, you hustle through the bustling, congested hallways just to get to class on time, as your body competes against the clock. You have two main focuses in mind: arriving to class before the bell rings and fabricating plans as to how you will finalize last minute homework. Little did you know that the girl you just passed has attempted suicide four times. As you try to direct your attention to the teacher’s boring lectures and take notes as you go along, you never realize the boy to your left is slaving to survive due to severe anxiety and OCD, while the girl on your right is undergoing trouble listening because the voices in her head keep interrupting her as she tries to fight them off. As you go home to do homework, a boy in your own math class is writing his suicide note. And you didn’t know.
Suicide is the second leading cause of death in teens in the United States. Approximately one in five adolescents have a diagnosable mental health disorder, and one in every ninety adolescents has resided at a psychiatric in-patient hospital for more than seven days. Despite these staggering statistics, why do we not hear of these people more?
As the teenage mental illness and suicide rate gradually rise, we must learn to open our mouths and speak. Here three key steps to fight off stigma and save a life:
First, don’t be afraid to open up. So many people are ashamed of what they are feeling. They feel as if their mental illness displays vulnerability and it’s an utter sin to talk. However, just like lung cancer is a disease of the lungs and liver failure is due to malfunction of the liver, mental illnesses are diseases of the brain, and the brain is just as significant of an organ as lungs or kidneys. Mental illnesses do not show weakness, they show the audacity to persevere. Thus, being open can actually save lives. Talking about your treatment and struggles can inspire someone else to get help and show them that they are not alone in their journey to recovery. Speaking up can also make mental illnesses less of a taboo subject to talk about.
Second, don’t say anything offensive. Countless, times, I’ve heard people say, “I almost had a panic attack” or “I have OCD when it comes to dirty phones.” Let’s disprove each of these statements. Panic attacks can mean the inability to breath, heart palpitations, the notion of death, sweating and more. They aren’t just “being scared.” Also, OCD may consist of repeatedly washing hands until they bleed, having severe anxiety attacks because a line isn’t straight, or leaving a room in tears because one of the walls are slanted. It isn’t simply being a perfectionist or liking neatness. Another common one I hear in many classes is “I was so depressed because of that test grade yesterday.” Depression isn’t just sadness. It’s having suicidal ideation, self-harm, changes in appetite, decreased motivation, no longer doing things you once loved and much more. Don’t just assume no one will get offended by these ignorant statements.
Third, educate yourself. Learn about mental illnesses online or in magazines. Talk to mental health advocates or read online blogs. Understand the chemical imbalances in the brain that determine mental illnesses and study the differences between mood and thought disorders. These are some of the best ways to support someone in need. Showing victims that you care can be the first step to their recovery, and if you face someone- you or your friend- who suffers from a mental illness in the future, you’ll be prepared and you can intervene and help. Mental illnesses take over a victim’s life, and they need to talk to someone, but they may not know who. You can be the person who they rely on. After you help them, they will help others, and the chain of positive reinforcement will expand, encouraging more and more people to speak up.
So, make sure you are aware. Know who you’re talking to and don’t make assumptions about people with mental illnesses, labeling them as “psycho” or “stupid.” Don’t call anyone bipolar just because they have mood swings and be sympathetic to the hidden stories behind every person. Everyone is going through something different, so treat them with empathy, not ignorance. Follow these three key tips to step up and fight stigma. Remember, you can make a difference.
Share your story, message, poem, quote, photo or video of hope, struggle or recovery. By sharing your experience, you can let others know that they are not alone.