How to Drop the Stigma

Man sitting on a sofa with his head in his hands
Photo by Nik Shuliahin on Unsplash

Mental Health. Sounds deep, doesn’t it? A bit dark, a bit hard to bring up. If you search this phrase on almost any form of social media, endless results will pop up of people preaching “We must talk more about mental health!” or “We need to drop the stigma surrounding mental health!” But have we really achieved this?

One of the main problems is that we generally approach mental health as a dark, taboo topic. If we see it like that, then we aren’t going to want to talk about it. Let’s take physical health as an example. Doesn’t sound deep, or dark, or a taboo, does it? It sounds normal. We can discuss aches and pains and healthy eating without any issues — it’s a piece of cake. But just the word mental implies that something is already wrong. But there isn’t. Mental health doesn’t need to have a negative connotation – it generally means everyday stress, mood, motivation, tiredness. Discussing these things aren’t bad, and if any of these aren’t particularly great for you, then that shouldn’t be something you should be made to feel guilty for. Someone who has arthritis or issues with their physical health isn’t made to feel like that’s their fault or that their feelings are invalid. And that’s the same for mental health.

Let’s look at a more serious example; someone gets cancer. They are received with empathy and sympathy. No one ever blames them for their illness, because that would be harsh, right? Now let’s look at depression; someone has manic depression/bipolar disorder, something which would have developed in their late teens. But many people would say, “It’s their fault. They need to cheer up. They need to man up. He’s got a house, a wife, and lovely kids. He has everything, and some people have real problems.” Despite the fact that this mood disorder is caused by biochemistry and genetic factors (you can take my word for it, I’m a Psychology student), people blame mental illness on the ill person. And that’s what needs to change.

In a 2018 suicide report, Samaritans claimed that, in England, 75% of suicide reports came from men, with nearly 3,500 cases; the most common age was between 45-50. And why do we think that is? It’s because of this stupid ‘man up’ attitude – that for some reason, having poor mental health means you must have fragile masculinity. Physical health doesn’t determine masculinity; being diabetic doesn’t make you any less of a ‘man,’ so why should mental health issues? Many men feel like they can’t speak about it because of this, and this isn’t fair. Telling people to toughen up isn’t going to help – you just don’t care about the problems of others, just admit it.

Piers Morgan, a lovely man, tweeted about how we need to teach our kids ‘mental resilience,’; a.k.a., if your mental health is deteriorating, I don’t care about your problems and if you have problems then you’re weak, therefore you should pretend that nothing is wrong. Therefore, if you’re bipolar, you shouldn’t take any medication because your mood swings can’t be that bad. If you’re schizophrenic and experiencing hallucinations, you’re evidently just overreacting or seeking attention. I don’t have a mental illness, therefore, no one else can. STOP spreading a toxic attitude because you simply don’t care or take the time to understand mental illness.

Now, let’s fix this idea. ‘Resilience’ means strength and perseverance. ‘Strength’ will actually be achieved by opening up about your problems to specialists and those who care. Resilience and persisting through hard times is only met when you have the courage to open up and make better lifestyle choices to benefit your health, not by keeping quiet because of those uneducated bigots who don’t bother learning about the biochemistry of the human brain and body. And you know what? There are many people out there who do care and will listen because they get that mental health isn’t any more problematic than physical health is. They get that resilience is only achieved with positive lifestyle changes — just like physical resilience! They are both based on the same concept – of looking after the self, the mental and physical. And both are equally as important as the other. You’re not any less of a person because you have a personality disorder, just as much as you aren’t any less of a person because you have kidney failure. Let’s put things into perspective and realise that mental health isn’t a deep, dark, unreachable topic. If we stopped with the clouded vision, we could see things clearly.

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