From a young age, we are taught what we should and shouldn't believe, and what we should hold dear to our hearts. However, somehow, mental health is not included in the conversation. I never knew about mental health until I was suffering badly at the age of 14. Due to the stigma around mental illness, the topic was hidden from me by my family and by my school.
Stigma (social) is defined as a mark of disgrace. It is something that society has taught us for generations. Society tends to tell us what is good and bad, though that does not necessarily mean that society is right.
I wish that a teacher had seen my lack of participation or withdrawn nature as a cause for concern. I wish that they had seen the bullies that hurt me and checked up on me. I wish that I was considered as more than just a pupil. I wish my parents understood mental health enough that they could teach me. It should not be the case that I had to find out about mental health in the midst of my suffering at 14 years of age. I am a firm believer that both schools and parents have a responsibility in teaching our young about their thoughts and feelings and what mental health is. This would go a long way in preventing avoidable trauma.
Mental illnesses are valid
Mental illness is not a phase, and it's not about gender. Children have feelings, just as valid as ours, and we shouldn’t discount that because of their age. If not treated, children with mental illness will grow into adults with mental illness. Mental illnesses are just as valid as any other bodily illnesses, and they deserve treatment too. Lack of treatment only exacerbates the situation.
For a long time, I refused to get help for my mental illness. I suppose I did this because I was ashamed of who I was and I felt like no one would understand what I was going through. Unfortunately, because of the society we live in, I wasn’t wrong. It took me two years of battling mental illness alone before I found therapy. Even then, it wasn't professional therapy, but a weekly chat with a volunteer.
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Lack of mental health support services
It felt like no one was taking me seriously. I don’t believe that people could see past my “teen girl” image. I just wanted someone to listen to me, to actually take the time to listen and to understand. It hurts when no one believes in what feels so real to you.
When I would go to doctor's, they wouldn’t give me any help, especially because I was under the impression that medication for mental illness was evil and would turn you into someone you were not. I felt so alone and frustrated that it was hard to get help for something that is much more common than the flu.
At the time, there were even less mental health services than there are now. However, despite an increase in the number of mental health services, the system is still messy. I have been told so many times that I need CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) and yet, nearly a decade later, I still have not received it.
I don’t understand if this is a postcode lottery situation, or if there is some sort of score sheet. Either way, it feels like my issues have been ignored for so long that I am now past the point in which I can be treated easily. I have even been refused help because I am "too complicated", yet, at the same time, I am "too well" to be sectioned or given more intense treatment.
It was not until the age of 22 that I found the right help for me. I had to fight the stigma that I put on myself and that was put on me by society, including by doctors. It took me so many attempts and so many big hurdles to get the help I needed.
The effects of stigma (TW: suicide)
Stigma is like this weight attached to the shackles of people in society. It’s up to us to remove the shackles. However, too often people would rather leave the shackles on and shun those who escape. This only brings us all down.
The worrying thing about the effect stigma has had on my life is that it took me eight years and all of my energy to get basic support. It shouldn’t be this way. I get upset when I think of people who may have decided that they could not handle the chase of trying to get help or of people who live with self-stigma because of what they were taught. People are literally dying because of this.
My dad was 49 and he never received therapy. He had mentioned his mental health struggles to doctors time and again but, like me, he refused medication. Therefore, he wasn't taken seriously. Ultimately, many decades of mental illness caught up with him and he ended his life. I ask myself if he would still be here if it weren't for the stigma attached to mental illness.
Imagine if he had received treatment when he was younger, for those heartbreaking memories that he used to tell me about. Imagine if someone had helped him. Maybe he would still be here, maybe he could have helped me.
We see stigma so much throughout our daily life. It comes in many forms. It's people making jokes about suicide and disability. It’s people giggling over two people of the same gender kissing. It's people judging a person who has chosen to change their gender. It’s telling people to move on and stop worrying when there is so much more to the story. Really, stigma is only judgment which no one has the right to bestow upon another.
I fight to stand against stigma. I hope that, eventually, stigma will be a thing of the past. But until people stand up and decide to say no to stigma, nothing will change. We can only fight this in unity.
I beg of you to take people seriously. No matter their gender, age, race... No matter who they are. All feelings are real, all feelings are valid, even if you don’t understand them. Let's all come together to raise awareness on mental health and to rid society of mental health stigma.
About Charlotte Underwood
Charlotte Underwood is an author and a mental health advocate. Find her online on Twitter and on her blog.
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