I know it’s December tomorrow which means Christmas is coming and everyone wants to be jolly and festive, but today I’d like to talk about something very close to my heart: mental health issues and what we can all do to help get rid of the stigma surrounding them, (I promise my next post will be a cheerful one).
I think as a psychology student I’m in a very privileged position to be taught the correct facts about different disorders that often get wrongly stigmatised by the public based on untrue ‘facts’ they have read and/or heard in the media. For example, what words do you associate with schizophrenia? Dangerous, maybe? Violent? However, violence is not a symptom of schizophrenia. What’s more is, those who are suffering with the disorder, and who are more likely to be violent, are far more likely to harm themselves than the public. The reason that violent acts committed by those with schizophrenia are so heavily publicised by the media is because they make for rare and shocking stories that are likely to sell more copies of the papers that print them.
The other day I had a conversation with a friend who told me about a conversation she had with someone about depression. What I heard actually shocked me and I was genuinely speechless; she told me that this person had referred to people suffering with depression as ‘selfish’. Selfish? How can someone suffering from an illness completely out of their control be considered selfish? It was also quite hurtful to hear having had family experience depression. I know they couldn’t just get over it, even though they really wanted to. It was hard to overcome, and it’s a horrible thought that it could come back at any point and they’re pretty powerless to stop it.
It’s the same for all mental health disorders- depression, anxiety, personality disorders, schizophrenia- nobody who is suffering wants to be. Nobody wants to be a burden on their family and friends, and people do feel selfish and guilty for having a mental health disorder, but they’re not. And they certainly do not deserve to be told that they are, in the same way that someone wheelchair bound does not deserve to be told they’re selfish for making another person push them around instead of walking. Do you think that if someone in a wheelchair had the choice between being unable to walk and being able bodied they’d choose the wheelchair? No. Mental health disorders are just as debilitating as physical illnesses and deserve to been seen as such. In fact, mental health disorders do often become physical. For example, anxiety is characterised by numerous physical symptoms like, dizziness, heart racing, muscle aches, and chest pain.
So, what can we do to help educate more people and help to reduce the stigma surrounding mental health disorders? Well first, if someone tells you they have a mental health problem then stop and put yourself in their shoes for a moment. Realise that it’s taken a lot for them to admit it to you, realise that it’s not their fault, and offer them a sympathetic ear. Call out others who wrongly stigmatize/state a wrong ‘fact’. Educate them. There’s MHAS here at UoL to get involved with, which focuses on raising awareness of and reducing the stigma attached to mental health illnesses. Also, volunteering for mental health charities is a wonderful way to spend your free time. I currently volunteer for Richmond fellowship where I go to their social drop ins and sit with people with a range of mental health issues, talk to them, play board games etc- basically anything that helps them to forget about their troubles for a little while. I found out about this opportunity through the careers service website which always has plenty of opportunities listed. However, if you don’t have that much spare time fundraising for a mental health charity is a great way to help out a wonderful cause.
Anyway, thank you to all of you who have read this post in its entirety. I know it was quite long. Remember, mental health disorders can affect anybody, anywhere, regardless of their life circumstances, so be kind, always, and hopefully one day, in the near future, we can get rid of the stigma completely.