Removing the Stigma of Mental Health

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Priscelle Diwa

When you make eye contact with a person on the street or if you are having a conversation with someone, can you tell right off the bat that they have a mental disease? Most likely the answer is no. Knowing that someone has a mental health disease often distorts our perception of what kind of person they are and what their future will look like. We need to change this way of thinking. Our stigma on people with mental health issues has to stop.

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A stigma is defined as, “a pre-determined attitude or belief about an individual or a group of people.” Stigmas can often lead those with mental illness to feel isolated and discriminated because those around them do not fully understand the full scope of what it means to live with a mental illness.

How can we recognize stigma? If we find ourselves judging a person based on assumptions or “what we have heard” then we should educate ourselves on the subject.

Let’s try to put ourselves in another person’s shoes. If we were seen as a label to others how would we feel? If you were labeled as, “the wheelchair girl” or “the girl with the scar” or any other label that distinctively set you apart from others how would that feel? These may not be mental illnesses but they are physically different than the majority of the crowd.

People are more than their differences. Stigmas divides and doesn’t allow people to truly understand one another. People with mental illness such as depression, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder are more than just a mental disorder. Don’t change your perception on a person with a mental illness. Instead see them as a whole and end the stigma.

I know for me, personally, I had a stigma about people with mental illnesses. I was exposed to this early on in middle school. There was a girl in one of my classes that had schizophrenia and I always made sure to keep my distance from her as I was terrified that she would go crazy and attack me at any moment.

Was that wrong of me? Of course it was. I lacked knowledge on this particular illness. My ignorance led to a complete misconception of my classmate. I saw her as the girl with schizophrenia instead of a girl, like me, who is diagnosed with a mental illness.

Ironically, the girl and I ended up being in the same class three years later and we were seated right next to each other. I didn’t  recognize her until I overheard her sharing with a fellow student that she has had schizophrenia since she was in middle school.

It was a wake up call. I not only wasn’t afraid of her illness, I actually got to know her. I realized that she was indeed just a regular person and her illness didn’t define her. Her identity didn’t revolve around her mental illness. She had hobbies, flaws, favorite movies, memories, etc. She was a girl, just like me.