According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, 1 in 5 U.S. adults experience mental illness each year and 1 in 6 U.S. youth aged 6-17 experience a mental health disorder each year. The fields of psychiatry and psychology are still relatively young which allows for a lack of knowledge and understanding. Though both fields have come a long way in recent years, there is still work to be done. From misunderstanding and preconceived ideas about what it actually means to be mentally ill, comes prejudice and stigma. And in an attempt to destigmatize mental health issues, they have become a joke to where the legitimacy of them is sabotaged.
Jokes about suicide have become seemingly more common. In an attempt to talk openly about the issues that 1 in 5 adults experience and 1 in 6 youth experience, it’s actually just become a joke. Liking things to be in order, does not necessarily mean someone has OCD, being bummed about a poor homework grade does not necessarily mean someone has depression, being routinely worried about something that warrants worry does not necessarily mean one has an anxiety disorder. Being worried is different than having a panic attack. Being moody does not mean someone has bipolar disorder. And using suicide as a joke, desensitizes the subject, to where it really is just used as a joke. This fuels the stigma.
To have OCD, an anxiety disorder, or depression is to have an actual medical diagnosis. Having a mental illness diagnosis is no different than having a diagnosis of any other chronic illness. Regardless of what part of the human body it affects, an illness is an illness. But when it comes to the brain, there’s a misunderstanding of what it actually means to have a mental illness, and ignorance fuels stigma.
Though there may be events that trigger feelings of depression or anxiety, it is almost always traced back to chemicals in the brain. Just like chemicals in the rest of one’s body might not work right sometimes, sometimes the chemicals in the brain, their levels, and the way they’re transmitted can cause depression and other mental illnesses.
Anxiety is not being worried. According to Mayo Clinic, symptoms of an anxiety disorder include: Hypervigilance, irritability, restlessness, lack of concentration, racing thoughts, unwanted thoughts, fatigue or sweating, fear, feeling of impending doom, insomnia, and shaking among many others. Experiencing some kind of anxiety is a normal part of life, but an anxiety disorder can be constant and obsessive worry that interferes with normal everyday tasks.
OCD (Obsessive Compulsive Disorder) is not needing to have everything in order. Mayo Clinic describes OCD as having compulsive behavior, agitation, compulsive hoarding, hypervigilance, impulsivity, meaningless repetition of own words, repetitive movements, ritualistic behavior, social isolation, intrusive thoughts, and or persistent repetition of words or actions. Even though liking things to be orderly and symmetrical does not mean an OCD diagnosis, it can be attributed to the illness. Throwing the term around carelessly diminishes the legitimacy of the approximate 2.2 million adults actually affected by it.
Being moody does not equal having bipolar disorder. Symptoms of bipolar disorder according to Mayo Clinic include: extreme mood swings most commonly consisting of manic highs and depressive lows. Manic episodes include feelings of high energy, reduced need for sleep, and a loss of touch with reality. Depressive episodes include feelings of low energy, loss of motivation, and loss of interest in everyday activities. Most episodes can last a few days to months.
Approximately 43.8 million people experience some form of mental illnesse(s). According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, “Sensationalizing mental illness can be harmful, especially for impressionable young teenagers. Images of self-harm might encourage others to view mental illness as something that is ‘tragically beautiful’.” The National Alliance on Mental Illness also added that, “Studies show that when the news offers sensationalized stories of suicide or reports attempts in detail, suicide rates increase. The release of ‘13 Reasons Why’ caused an uptick in suicide searches, which is concerning because research has shown that such searches correlate with actual suicides.”
Mental illnesses are not something to be ashamed of but they are also not something to be proud of. Find a healthy medium. Don’t be afraid to reach out if you feel as if you might need help with your mental health. Acknowledge that you need help, but don’t define yourself by your illness. You are more than what makes you hurt. And certainly don’t joke about it. You wouldn’t joke about any other physical illness. Your school counselors are here to help you, along with a number of trusting and caring teachers, and the newly implemented HOPE squad.