Break The Stigma

written by Julia Sutter || photograph by Valeria Dellisanti


Believe it or not, even with the increased awareness of mental illness in our generation, there are still attitudes within most societies that view mental health problems as threatening, uncomfortable, or even dangerous. These attitudes are what begin, and in turn, spread stigma and discrimination. To give you a definition, stigma is when someone views you in a negative light because you have a distinguishing characteristic or personal trait that's thought to be, or is, a disadvantage. 

Whether you are able to ignore it or not, this negative attitude against mental health is still incredibly common. Mental illness affects more people than we even realize. In fact, one in four people in the world will be affected by mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives. Around 450 million people currently suffer from such conditions, placing mental disorders among the leading causes of ill-health and disability worldwide. 

It wasn’t until I got on medication myself that I discovered every one of my friends knew someone that also took medication, or even took it themselves. It was then that I began to question why so many people chose to hide their illness, as if they are ashamed. If there are that many people suffering, why are we still so afraid to vocalize our mental health? I have come to find that it is the stigma against it that makes us feel ashamed, and I feel as if it was instilled in us from a young age to keep ‘flaws’ such as these a secret. However, mental illness is not a weakness or a personality flaw, it’s a medical condition just like diabetes or asthma. It’s not something you can just get over. It has changed my life and I know it has changed the life of so many others. Acceptance on this topic has grown immensely as the years progressed. More and more people have begun to speak up about their struggles and break the stigmas. But we have to keep moving in the right direction. Talking about it openly is the only way people who need help can finally feel comfortable enough to ask for it. 

One of the main stigmas of mental health is the stigma of therapy and talking to a counselor. Most people assume you have to be ‘crazy’ to need to go talk to someone, and that is not how they categorize themselves.  To clarify, most people who initiate counseling do not have a serious mental illness. They have serious challenges in their life or are going through difficult changes that may be hard to cope with. It takes a lot of courage, strength, self awareness, and patience to take the steps towards getting the help you need, but going to talk to someone is not something that should ever be frowned upon. Getting a professional second opinion on hard situations is incredibly important. It is such a privilege to be able to have a source of outside help provided by psychologists/psychiatrists- one that we should never take for granted or be embarrassed by. If you had a serious physical illness, how long would you wait before going to the doctor? Would you just treat it on your own? Mental health is just as important. Your quality of life is at stake, and professionals can help.

In addition to psychotherapy, use of medication holds the biggest stigma. Your body needing medication is not a sign of weakness, in fact noticing that you need help and acting on it is the biggest act of strength I can think of. There is no shame in taking medication for a mental illness. Nearly two-thirds of people with a known mental disorder never seek help from a health professional or get the medication they need. Stigma, discrimination and neglect prevent care and treatment from reaching people with mental disorders, says the World Health Organization (WHO). Where there is neglect, there is little or no understanding. Where there is no understanding, there is neglect. There is no shame in knowing what you need and taking action to help yourself get better. A person who has a headache takes Advil, a person who is diabetic takes insulin, a person who is bipolar takes mood stabilizers, and a person with depression takes antidepressants. It's time we treat all illnesses equally.

You mind is your biggest investment, so invest in your mind and respect what it needs. Your mental health is the foundation of your overall health. You cannot physically function without taking care of your mind first. Choose to break the stigma and expand your understanding. Mental illness isn’t a choice, but stigma and ignorance are.