Your friend tells you that they have cancer and you watch them struggle through the awful side effects of the chemotherapy, the pain caused by the cancer itself, and their strong faith helping them through it and think, ” Wow! She is amazing how she has gotten through this and with a smile on her face. She is a strong person.”
You find out that your friend has been dealing with a heart defect since she was 12. You never would have known by her cheery attitude that she had spent days in the hospital at a time. She has been a great friend and a great employee where you work. You never would have known that she was facing heart surgery in a month. You admire her strength and courage and determination.
You find out your friend was diagnosed with bipolar disorder when she was 17. Her struggles have lead to many hospitalizations and many broken relationships. You had never suspected anything because she always has seemed part of the crowd. Then you find out that sometimes she spends a few weeks at a time in a deep depression and has to take medications to prevent her from cycling into a manic episode. The meds have made her gain weight and have a lot of other adverse side effects. Do you admire her for her strength and determination? My guess is probably not. Although you have known her for almost two years, you probably now think she is crazy and weak. You come to the conclusion that she is less of a person with a problem not like cancer or a heart condition.
The problem is that so many people view problems with the mind, otherwise known as mental illness as a default with someone’s character or something they have chosen to be. Many don’t think of a mental illness as the same thing as a heart defect, diabetes, cancer, etc.
The fact is, it really is not much different. The only thing that is different is that those with mental illnesses often have a chemical imbalance in their brain. Oftentimes, medications can help.
However, with the stigma that is still attached to mental illness, a person with bipolar disorder or schizophrenia, or PTSD, or depression is somehow not a strong person, but a weak one.
It is sad that the stigma still prevents people from telling their friends and employers that they have a mental illness. It is fine to tell someone you know that you have diabetes, cancer, a heart defect, etc. However, it is not ok to tell someone you have a mental illness.
It is sad that someone with a mental illness has endured so many awful things that sometimes are not visible, but still debilitating, scary, painful, etc. however they are viewed as someone who is weak. With any other illness, people are viewed as strong.
One in four people in the U.S. have a mental illness. Chances are that someone you know is dealing with depression, anxiety, PTSD, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, etc. You would never know because they don’t feel like they can share without being judgef.
How are you going to react if someone you know tells you they have a mental illness?