"I had people saying 'It's all in your head'. Do you honestly think I want to feel this way?" - Sonia Estrada
Sometimes, when someone starts to talk about it, all you hear is, “Get over it!” People don't like to talk about it. Some are embarrassed by it and others simply don't understand it.
What is "it"?
It, is depression.
It, is anxiety.
It, is self-harm.
It, is mental illness.
A mental illness is a disease of the brain that causes mild to severe disturbances in thought and behavior, resulting in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and routines (1). The stigma associated with mental illness is one of the biggest barriers that prevents people from getting the treatment they need (2). Unfortunately, social stigmas and negative attitudes are common toward people who have a mental health condition.
People with mental disorders are taught to feel shame―to believe that they have a character deficiency that is disgraceful, weak, “all in their heads,” or something to just “get over.” But the way we collectively treat people with mental illness goes far beyond that. Tackling the unfavorable attitudes surrounding mental health starts by encouraging more people to talk about it openly.
In the United States alone, there were an estimated 17 million adults who experienced at least one major depressive event in 2017. This meant that about 7% of the U.S. population – or about 1 in 14 people – were going through a difficult time with their mental health (3). We can talk about predisposition and genetics and things like that, but the truth of the matter is that anyone can be affected by mental illness. Like was mentioned in the Depression Awareness blog, people who are depressed often do not give any indication that something is wrong. They may be able to continue outwardly living like normal, like nothing was out of the ordinary.
That’s why it is helpful to recognize the signs of depression and other mental illnesses. And if you can’t remember it all, one of the biggest ways to help people with mental illnesses is to try to be understanding and to decrease the negative stigma around them. People don’t choose to develop a mental illness – it happens to them.
Ultimately, it’s more than just changing hearts or minds―it’s about getting to the root of the problem by fixing systemic issues. That means more mental health training, more initiatives that support individuals dealing with a psychological issue, and more policies designed to help people with mental illness get the care they need (without fear of reproach or judgment).
It all starts with you talking about it. Say it out loud. Don't be afraid to say the words.
1. Mental Illness and the Family: Recognizing Warning Signs and How to Cope. Mental Health America, 2018.
2. Friedman, Michael. The Stigma of Mental Illness is Making Us Sicker: Why mental illness should be a public health priority. Psychology Today, 2014.
3. National Institute of Mental Health. "Major Depression". National Institutes of Health. Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/major-depression.shtml.
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