I recently had a conversation with a close friend on the topic of mental illness, someone who had been tentatively diagnosed as having depression and anxiety. Upon their diagnoses and winding down from the emotional medical appointment their perception of the diagnoses began to drastically change. They felt that they were seen as “weak” or “crazy”, labelled as someone suffering from a common mental illness. Yet when I brought up the fact that it’s well known that I suffer(ed) from mental illness their perception on my case changed with them saying that I wasn’t “crazy” or “weak”. I just can’t wrap my head around why the perception of the same diagnoses changes between two people. Mental illness doesn’t make you weak. While in the moment you do feel weak, vulnerable, and hopeless, it makes you strong coming out of it. Strong in that fact that you had the courage to come out and make a positive change in your life in seeking help. Strong in the sense that you wanted to see the light and work towards feeling happiness again, knowing that you full well deserve to be and feel happy in your life.
I just don’t get it. Why does perception of mental illness change when its reflected upon oneself? We are oftentimes so forgiving to other people, but yet so quick to judge and put ourselves down. Mental illness is so common now. I’m proud that I was able to embrace and accept my diagnosis, but I can’t help but wish that others around me would be able to feel the same comfort in doing the same. I’ve heard of countless stories from friends and acquaintances around me open up with their own stories and journeys of healing through mental illness, thereby highlighting how common mental illness really is.
The negative perception of mental illness don’t only exist within the “lay people” realm though. I had a good conversation with another good friend of mine recently whom told me about a story where a potential romantic interest (who was a aspiring physician) told them that they did not believe that mental illness such as depression or anxiety were real illnesses. That people who “claim” to have these illnesses are “fakers” and lying and that it’s just not a legitimate medical illness. This form of thought not only greatly upsets me, but it terrifies me to know (in my own experience as well) that there are a number of medical professionals out there who have this view on mental illness. Medical professionals that people such as myself, seeking help for their MEDICAL CONDITION turn to to receive treatment and support to get back to feeling normal. People that are truly depressed or anxious don’t just make up their symptoms. It’s exhausting feeling hopeless and unmotivated on a daily basis for weeks and months at a time. To the point that one day you wake up and feel like there’s no point in doing anything anymore. That going out to talk with friends is meaningless or having the need to go to class and study is pointless and too consuming of the little energy you have left. I didn’t choose this life of wanting to have depression, it chose me. It makes me angry to think that there are people out there who think that these symptoms are made up and those suffering from depression are “just lazy people who want an excuse to do nothing and collect sick benefits”. If had been up to me, i’d have rather picked having an overwhelming amount of stuff to do and be a productive member of society, then feel hopeless and worthless sitting in my bed at home alone crying myself to sleep on a daily basis.
I think another facto that I feel makes people weary about the legitimacy about mental illness includes the likelihood that in past generations mental illness wasn’t a common occurrence (maybe it didn’t exist to the extent it did now or people just didn’t report it), I think now with the amount of technology and societal influences with fast paced and competitive environments mental illness is a consequence. I also feel that medical training hasn’t necessarily kept up with the evolving nature of mental illness, often reluctant to see it as a legitimate illness due to the fact that many of the systems are not “concrete” or visible (aka: “it’s all in the mind”). It;s not surprising to hear of the lack of partnerships and trust between different realms of medicine and psychiatry (also a section of medicine). We need to change this in how future physicians are trained, particularly with the statistics showing that an estimated 1 in 5 Canadians REPORT (imagine the unreported cases) to identify with a mental illness. It’s unacceptable to know that psychiatry is often looked down upon, particularly with the fact that they ALSO go to medical school and participate in MEDICAL TRAINING during their formative education and residencies.
I do think part of the problem is how we become accustomed to using the words “depressed” or “anxious”. I think we really need to work on how we use these terms. Just having a “bad” day shouldn’t encourage some to say “i’m so depressed now”. It’s normal to feel down or upset when something goes wrong, but just like how we encourage others to use the terms “retard” or “gay” in a proper context, we should encourage others to do the same with terms surrounding mental illness. We can’t work towards unpacking the stigma around mental illness, if we as a society can’t agree or utilize the terminology correctly.