There is stigma everywhere – homophobia, sexism and racism – and luckily, this is declining, especially in Scotland. However, absent from the campaigns that banish stereotypes is mental illness and this is something I see everyday. Nowadays, it is socially unacceptable to use derogatory language, but I still hear “mental” everyday. Unfortunately, I have personally experienced stigma and I want to dispel some misconceptions, as education is the way to fight ignorance.
I’m not crazy
Yes, I suffer from anxiety and depression and no, that does not make me crazy. My body releasing too much adrenaline, in response to a situation that induces fear in me, doesn’t make me insane. In fact, everyone experiences this sensation, just not to the same degree and normally not without an adequate trigger. Anxiety is normal, and it exists as it has been crucial for the survival of the human species. The fight or flight response used to protect us from predators, now motivates us to study harder for an upcoming exam. And as for depression, this is a mood disorder that brings symptoms such as lack of appetite, inability to sleep or feelings of low self-worth. Those symptoms are also commonly experienced by healthy people, however, it’s the severity and the duration of these symptoms which causes distress.
Psychosis – a state in which a person cannot distinguish reality from their thoughts. A severe mental illness that often causes hospitalisation.
It is offensive, and demonstrates ignorance, to suggest that someone with depression or anxiety is unable to accurately recall events. It is insulting to insinuate that people with depression can’t distinguish reality. People with depression don’t experience hallucinations as a symptom. Those who suffer from positive symptoms, such as hallucinations or delusions, are likely to suffer from schizophrenia. The neurochemical imbalance in schizophrenia is very different from depression; it is hypothesised to be as a result of a significant increase of dopamine in the brain. Illegal drugs often increase the levels of dopamine which explains why you may hallucinate whilst taking them.
There is an incredible lack of understanding of mental disorders, therefore it is important that it is made clear that there are different types of disorders, some more severe than others, and having one doesn’t mean you have them all. For example, if someone has asthma it doesn’t mean they have COPD – they are both very different diseases, with different treatments and causes. I would like to reiterate that although someone may suffer from a mental disorder, this does not make this person incompetent and crazy. It is also very possible to be high-functioning and a sufferer of anorexia/depression/bipolar.
I’m not lazy
Since depression can cause lack of interest and motivation, I can understand why the connection between this illness and laziness has been made. However, laziness is not a symptom of depression. I have never missed a day of work due to depression and I have never taken a break from University either. I have been able to continue my fast-paced life whilst I have been recovering from depression. Every individual is different and you cannot ascribe a personality trait to a mental illness.
I’m not unhealthy
For the last year, my health has been my priority and I have been recovering whilst living my regular life. Luckily, my depression is near enough absent and my anxiety is well-controlled for most of the time, so I’m in a great place right now. While many of my friends are stressed out and living in the library, I’m balancing my studying with time to chill out. My focus on my health means that I am always aware of how I am and if anything changes slightly, for example, if I’m nervous for no apparent reason, I evaluate the situation and work out why. Consequently, although I may have my battles with anxiety, I am very in tune with my mental health and I take great care of myself. I dare say that I am actually healthier than the average University Student, as I appreciate how important my health is.
In conclusion, misconceptions about mental illness are everywhere and by opening up a conversation we can correct them. Mental illness doesn’t make you crazy, unreliable or lazy; these things are irrelevant to the illness and instead determined by the personality of the individual. By spreading awareness we can fight this stigma and rid the world of nasty comments! I would also like to add that there is an abundance of tweets in support of mental health but without action to back up those words – any sentiment is meaningless. It’s easy to retweet something that encourages people to look out for your friends, however, you should actually take the advice to make the world a better place. I hope that explanation provides an insight into how mental illness doesn’t just cover psychosis and schizophrenia. If you have heard of any other mental illness assumptions that are damaging, please leave them in the comments below!