Wednesday, October 12, 2011

The Stigma of Mental Illness

From the beginning of time, it's been there and has been haunting humanity as a terrible enigma. Throughout the centuries, solutions have ranged from avoidance to asylums to exorcisms. That thing is mental illness. While mentally ill people have gained more rights over the years, there is still a stigma and general ignorance towards it.

When people think of mental illness, they usually think of some random homeless man ranting on the street or something of that illness. However, while schizophrenia is certainly a severe mental illness, mental illnesses range in seriousness and can be anything from SAD (Seasonal Affective Disorder) to Type 1 Bipolar Disorder. Mental illnesses are defined by NAMI (National Alliances on Mental Illness) as "...medical conditions that disrupt a person's thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning." According to WebMD, mental disorders affect 22% of adults each year.

It was, and still is, a great hobby for me to look up mental illnesses and their symptoms and then catalog them in my brain. For a long time, I seriously considered being a therapist. Of course, I come from the emotional standpoint as well as the medical one. Researching mental illness has made me more aware of the challenges that these people experience every day. Now, however, I come from a different perspective. Today I speak as a sufferer of a mental illness.

Okay that seems a bit much. It feels kind of insane to say that I have a mental illness, though if you were to look up "mental illness" on Google it would be on every site that comes up as a result.

According to the psychiatrist I saw, I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Ironically, I did e-mail a link about GAD to my mother at one point, but at the time I did not meet the criteria (I figured that it was just me blowing things out of proportion like always. At different points in my life, I've suspected that I had social phobia disorder, obsessive-compulsive personality disorder*, and selective mutism. Basically that all adds up to hypochondria, folks).

In case you do not have an encyclopedic brain like mine, Generalized Anxiety Disorder is a mental disorder where one obsesses over little things over and over long after the situation has passed and blows them out of proportion. This causes panic attacks (though, as the doctor told me, I do NOT suffer from Panic Disorder) and sometimes people with GAD suffer these symptoms for no apparent reason.

The reason I'm mentioning this on my blog is to erase the shame and stigma of mental illness. I always thought it was wrong how society treated mental illness and swore that I was going to be a part of the solution to fix those negative feelings. On the other end of that spectrum, I'm not going to be like this one girl I used to know who obsessed over her peanut allergy and acted like it was the worst thing in the world. It may be no one's business and I may not have the obligation to tell everyone about it, but I'm not going to hide ashamed in some dark corner. I'm not. This is something that's been seriously affecting my life for a long time and now I just have a name for it. By talking about my own struggles, maybe I can help someone else out who is going through the same thing. This won't be something I'll talk to someone about at random, but if I'm asked I won't lie about it.

There's some other people in my life with similar issues as mine who do not have the same attitude as I do. One of those people is downright ashamed of it and is calling it embarrassing. This person is refusing to get help and watching him struggle breaks my heart. Maybe it's for him and people like him who I'm speaking out for here.

Having a mental illness is no more or less embarrassing than having a heart condition or asthma. The brain is just another organ and when someone has a mental illness, it means that that organ isn't working right. Obviously, having a mental illness has a different impact on one's life than having a heart condition is. It still doesn't mean that having a mental illness is a weakness or a defect in someone's character; either way it's nothing to be done about it.

Now, when I did get the diagnosis, part of me was embarrassed. A part of me is embarrassed and reluctant to write this down. Another part of me is worrying like crazy about everything. True to my nature, I'm worrying about what this will mean for my life and my education and everything (even though the answer has been blatantly obvious already).

So, yeah. I have Generalized Anxiety Disorder and I'm getting help for it. It is what it is. I'm not a different person; everyone already knew that I'm a perfectionist and a nitpicker and that I worry too much about everything.

Think about it. 22% is a little more than one in five so you probably know someone with a mental illness. It seriously isn't that big of a deal and it's stupid how so many people are making it out to be one.

I hope the day will come when this stupid, harmful ignorance is shattered for good.

*Obsessive-compulsive personality disorder should NOT be confused with OCD. It being under the set of personality disorders, it is a little different. Look it up if you so choose.

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