The stigma: Mental Health

With 1 in 6 suffering from a mental health symptom, and 1 in 4 from an illness itself, you would have thought such a subject would be central to global conversation. But, as we know, it is quite the opposite.

Mental illness is referred to a specific psychological condition that causes disorder with regard to our behaviour and cognitive processes. While it is very much considered something within our control, and as far as can be scientifically explained thus far, such illness is, contrary to popular belief, caused by a chemical imbalance of certain neurotransmitters. For instance, serotonin is a natural mood stabilizer that has a variety of functions despite being closely related to depression. It helps reduce symptoms of depression (and OCD), anxiety, heal wounds, stimulate nausea, and maintain bone health, alike. While we cannot be sure of the role serotonin plays in relation to depression, we do know that increased levels of it in patients of whom suffer from mental illness, report a better mood, increased happiness and well-being. Medication used for treating an array of mental illness, such as SSRIs, increase the levels of serotonin in the brain by inhibiting the re-absorption of the chemical, so more remains active.

Interestingly, psychiatric illnesses have been shown to be hereditary, even despite those separated at birth. Research has shown that genetic links, and even specific genes (candidate genes), may well be associated with different illnesses.

So, the stigma. Why does it exist? To be neurotypical is desirable, to be healthy and able to function normally are traits very well coveted. And so, to be atypical, suffering and very much detached are, in an opposite fashion, a deviation to our self-expectations. We crave conformity to a set of social norms ingrained through socialisation. To suddenly, and uncontrollably, drift further and further from our own identity, taken by an illness, is very… unfortunate. Almost as if this lack of control forces one to fall even further, knowing well enough that to overcome this, you must be stuck in this tribulation of all that you are and all you know you could do, should you not be under such a dark spell. It is difficult to suggest one sole factor that triggers and builds upon a stigma; for a stigma to exist, a small ignition must first be activated and then maintained by society over time. Our choice to ignore mental illness, to act as if it does not exist when evidently, there are so many sufferers, means that we continuously support this very discriminatory cycle that sanctions those affected.

If we begin to look more closely, scrutinising the gender binary; men are explicit sufferers because of the effort they share in suffering in silence. Toxic masculinity would go to suggest the very existent pit-falls of patriarchy for men – to feel imprisoned by expectation and social standard can, once weighed and considered appropriately, encourage silence as opposed to disobedience of norms regarding masculinity. Men risk status, appearance, perception and overall persona should they wish to rebel against much of the self-reliance ingrained through every agent of society their mental demise has been subject to. The traditional view still exists, men are pressurised into roles that lack vulnerability and weakness. The fact that in nearly every country, men commit suicide more frequently than women, which is fascinating since women typically have higher rates of mental health disorders, shows just how existent this damaging, harmful, toxic, poisonous, destructive, deplorable, repulsive and ultimately insane patriarchy is. It is our responsibility to destruct this stigma, to tear down at this powerful structural model and effectively take on mental illness for what it is: an illness, not deserving of romanticisation, nor as a substitute use of an adjective – but an illness.

One of the best arguments of the mental illness rejection committee‘s (not real, but we do know this exists hypothetically) is that the invisibility of something, of course, means it doesn’t exist. As we know, applying this theory to the natural world – oxygen, ultraviolet light, gravity, and electrons are among the very things we accept despite never properly understanding their properties, just because creditable scientists have referenced their existence. We accept the motions of life, but not the emotions of life. This stigma, I cannot explain. I can’t tell you why the supposed invisibility of an illness defines its in-existence, because this theory is proven inaccurate. It must come down to the social conditioning of our detachment of weakness. Perhaps.

All of these forces that create the stigma… but on the front line of this constant battle: the media. A saturated, repulsive communication body that effectively controls our perception of everything, ever. It is a power driven force with the interests of profit, but we are so subservient to its distortion of information, so thoughtless to its motives, and ultimately so blind to it’s agenda set primarily on the basis of new value. Questioning what you read, hear and see is incredibly vital. Behind every story, bulletin and report lay some sensationalised issue used to magnetically attract your money. Can you say that this agent takes specific interest in trying to inform readers, making us all better, well-rounded citizens? That is your choice to make, but with 77% of adults believing the media does a poor job in educating people about mental illness, I cannot say the media helps to reduce this stigma. From portrayals, to underrepresentations, to complete myth, media reports are simply a game of fact or fiction. Mental health has direct effects on employment, crime, the economy, and personal well-being but it still remains so trivialised, poorly documented and a stigmatised fact of human experience. To be atypical does not come with a set of predisposed characteristics, it does not imply that those depressed cannot get out of bed, nor that those with OCD must just wash their hands, or that those with anorexia are mere skin and bone. These misconceptions are taught, but require some hard effort to reduce what illness is presented as, and to re-build again with truth and fact. Illnesses effect us differently; no one experience is homogeneous; to effectively understand mental health, we must respect individual differences, rather than telling mentally ill how they should be, rather than what they are. To challenge what you know and break the stigma, speak to sufferers; their is no need for the media middle-man to show you how to think about people of whom are so different, but also so alike.

Nine out of ten people (87%) with mental health problems are affected by stigma and discrimination. This stigma evidently, quite obviously, and importantly, needs to be broken. Like it is not a choice to suffer, it is not a choice to ignore this prominent epidemic. You know a sufferer, even if they are not so explicit. You cannot sit docile, to abide by what you are told about mentally ill people means that you encourage this stigma. You have an invisible responsibility to make a difference in the lives of others. The damaging effects of this strengthening stigma may just become too overwhelming one day, and then this prejudicial societal splinter will snap. Who knows?

The spoiled collective identity would go to suggest that the stigmatised person is condensed in the minds of others from a whole, neurotypical person to a tainted, rejected one.

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