It’s Not All in Their Head

Image by: Sharon Sinclair

When I was in elementary school I remember a kid in my class breaking a bone on the playground and coming to school the next day with a cast around his arm. Everyone crowded him at recess, including me, asking for details on how he injured it and if we could have the honor of signing his bright red cast.

It was acceptable, cool even, and it still is now, yet when you tell someone you have Schizophrenia, OCD, or Anorexia they all seem to shrink away or change the subject.

Mental Illnesses have been a taboo for a while. They are often portrayed as negative abnormal things that only “crazy” unstable people are diagnosed with.

The truth is as many as 450 million people in the world suffer from a mental illness.

Examples of Mental Illness Discrimination board-1030589_1280

Image by Geralt

Mental disorders are often associated with being the persons fault. Phrases such as “You just need to change your frame of mind” or “It’s like you’re not even trying” are thrown at struggling people who try to reach out for help. What people don’t understand is that mental disorders are contributed by chemical imbalances in the brain. It can be too much or too little of one or many chemicals that can develop a mental disorder.

A friend of mine, lets call her Sara, has experienced this discrimination first hand. Sara has been diagnosed with severe Generalized Anxiety Disorder or more commonly referred to as GAD, which makes school a daily battle because of it’s crowdedness and other factors. Sara was having a panic attack at school so she asked to go to the nurse. Even though panic attacks make you feel like you’re dying or going crazy she was ushered back to class because she was still “physically able” to participate in class. (Sara’s name has been changed for privacy reasons).

What the school failed to realize is that when you undergo a panic attack you experience symptoms such as shortness of breath, nausea, chest pain, sweating, and feeling detached from your surroundings according to helpguide.org. You are just as able to learn when having a panic attack as when you have a crippling stomach ache or a fever.

Another example of illness bias in schools is concussions versus ADHD. Students with concussions have a physical condition that prevents them from reading and writing so they are willingly given copies of notes to aid them in learning. However, when you have ADHD, a mental disorder that can make it hard to focus resulting in a hard time taking notes and learning at the same time, it’s a different story. Many students with ADHD are not given the notes resulting in trouble learning the material. The two illness are treated differently and that’s the problem.

ADHD is believed to only cause hyperactivity which is false much like the stigmas behind Depression. People who are diagnosed with Depression are pictured as ’emo’ people who wear black and never smile. The fact is anyone can have Depression no matter what color their clothes are. People also mistake Depression to be an outlook problem, telling people with Depression that others have it worse.

Why We Should Care

“Three out of four people with a mental illness report that they have experienced stigma. 

(according to the Government of Western Australia Mental Health Commission)

When we place these stigmas on people who are battling with mental illnesses they are fearful of judgement which results in them shying away from reaching out for help when they truly need it.

Many mental disorders go untreated it resulting in serious consequences. Untreated mental illnesses in the U.S cost more than 100 billion dollars as a result of lost productivity. Approximately 1 million people commit suicide a year, and most often it’s because they have a mental illness that’s untreated. And an estimate of 10% of homicides are associated with severe untreated psychiatric disorders.

People are dying because they are too scared to ask for help or they were denied it because they were told to make a greater effort instead of getting the care they needed.

Change That Needs to Happen

Even though awareness is being spread about these illnesses more now then 50 years ago, additional recognition needs to happen. By spreading the word on how brutally real these disorders are less criticism would occur and more people would be able to get proper help.

Schools play a big part in this problem, 1 in 5 children ages 13-18 suffer from a serious mental disorder. A step the education system can take to improve is allowing mental health days. Someone with a diagnosed mental disorder should be allowed a certain amount of days off when their illness flares up. Schools also need to treat mental illnesses seriously so students can be able to learn without struggling as much as they do.

If you’re suffering from a mental illness it’s important to know that you are not alone and it’s not your fault you are struggling. Please reach out for help if need it by talking to a trusted adult or click this link to get more information.

Twenty One Pilots said it best in their song Fake You Out:

“Our brains are sick but that’s okay”

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