When you think of mental illness, what comes to mind?
If you picture crazy people housed in insane asylums, you’re not alone. Unfortunately, you’re also contributing to a dangerous stigma that forces many people from seeking support for and assistance with the mental illness they struggle with every day.
The Stigma Against Mental Illness
Stereotypically, “mental illness” and “therapy” tend to be used in conjunction with “crazy” and “insane.” While it’s certainly true that some people with severe mental illness are so mentally unstable that they need to seek treatment in psychiatric hospitals, thousands of people deal with common, mild to moderate forms of mental illness every day. Depression, anxiety, stress, self-injurious behavior, eating disorders, and suicidal thoughts, urges, and tendencies are examples of common mental illnesses people struggle with on a daily basis. While some of these illnesses are severe enough to be easily recognized by others, many of them are hidden under well-practiced masks.
High-Functioning Mental Illness
Hidden forms of mental illness are sometimes referred to as “high-functioning.” People with high-functioning depression or anxiety, for example, appear to be well-balanced, successful individuals at first glance. They may seem to have it all – a supportive partner, a successful job, great kids, a beautiful house, etc. On the surface, no one would ever suspect the intense stress, depression, anxiety, and other challenges these people deal with internally every single day.
The Danger Of The Stigma
Tragically, the stigma surrounding mental illness prevents many people, both high-functioning and otherwise, from seeking the help and treatment they need. No one wants to be labeled as “crazy.” Even if they are surrounded by supportive friends and family, some people may avoid seeking therapy because the stigma is so powerfully ingrained that they would label themselves as “crazy” if they contacted a mental health counselor.
Because of this stigma, thousands of people go without needed treatment and support. Worse, they may try to hide their symptoms and their struggles from the outside world. Internalizing these issues and refusing to let them surface typically causes the psychological struggles to become stronger and more powerful. Eventually, the people who cover up their challenges (even those who appear to be completely successful) may find it impossible to keep up the charade. If you’ve ever been shocked to hear of someone committing suicide because you thought he had everything he could have possibly wanted, you know first-hand how dangerous bottling up these emotions and symptoms can be.
Help Me Abolish The Stigma Of Mental Health
As an online psychotherapist, I have made it my mission to abolish the stigma surrounding mental health. I work hard to normalize the mental health challenges people face every single day. I implore you to assist me by doing your part. Please be cautious and considerate when listening to someone talk about the internal challenges they’re facing. Before you respond with a simple “Relax, it’ll be fine” or “I wouldn’t worry about it – that doesn’t sound like such a big deal to me,” take a moment to consider the truth depth of what they are saying to you.
While they might simply be venting about a passing frustration, they could also be opening up to you about deep-seated struggles. Don’t downplay the gravity of their message – make sure they know that you will be there for them through it all.
If need be, encourage them to seek help from an experienced therapist who may be able to help them overcome their challenges. Your supportive gesture may mean more to them than you could ever know.