Apparently it is Mental Illness Awareness Week, and I wrote something on twitter about how those of us who have a mental illness are usually aware of it every day. It’s the people who don’t have mental illnesses that need awareness of what it’s like or how many of us do have these struggles.
It’s hard to explain what it’s like to have a mental illness to someone who has never experienced it. It’s difficult to describe how real the feelings and thoughts are, or how they are part of us even though we may know that they are not “normal.”
But rather than try to get into why it’s so difficult to explain and to understand, I wanted to address something that came up after my LDS Living article was published. Apparently, there was a little confusion when I wrote about how a difficulty in feeling the spirit can be a side effect of mental illness or the medications we take to help our mental illness. Some (at least one) made the jump that I was saying that if you can’t feel the spirit, you have a mental illness. That is not true. I was not saying nor implying that.
As I thought about that comment, though, it made me sad. I realized that the very comment and tone in which it seemed to be presented showed the stigma that many still have about having a mental illness—that it is a negative, bad state of being that is to be avoided—a pariah of sorts. It’s like our modern leprosy—those without mental illness try to avoid and distance themselves from it and or sometimes seem to say, “how dare you accuse me of having a mental illness!”
When we hear phrases like “He is mentally ill” used as an accusation or an excuse for someone with immoral, bad, or disgusting behavior, that also perpetuates this stigma and negative connotation of mental illness.
How We Talk About It Matters
This is where awareness of mental illness comes into play. Mental illness does not make someone a bad or inferior person. It should not be thrown around as an insult or be considered to be one. We do not think someone with cancer is less worthy or get offended if someone might think that we have a broken leg because we are limping. Mental illness is a human condition, as are physical illnesses.
Having a mental illness is not a choice. Yes, can choose how to act and what help to seek if we have a mental illness. We can choose whether or not to tell people about our mental illness—but it is not fair if we feel like we cannot tell others because we fear being judged negatively or stigmatized as a result.
What do you think is the most harmful part of stigmas against mental illness?