It is incredible that in today’s society that prides itself on being accepting, diverse, and politically correct, a widespread stigma of a large group of people can still exist. Unfortunately, though, such stigmas do exist, and one of the most prominent and dangerous ones is the stigma of mental illness.
Those who suffer from mental illness are often thought of as being weak, or merely unable to “suck it up and deal with life.” Illnesses such as depression, however, are real illnesses, much like any other sickness. The brain is a part of your body, and much like the rest of your body, it too is susceptible to disease.
In college, such a stigma can be dangerous. Friendships are often the most important part of a student’s life. You live, eat, take classes, and go out with your friends. The risk of losing or alienating these friends, then can seem like the biggest danger in the world, and will often cause a person who needs help to refrain from seeking the help they need if it is thought that they will lose their friends in the process.
Simple comments made during a conversation can lead someone who so desperately needs this help to not seek it. It is a sad fact that many of the same people who would never condone a racial joke, or stereotyping based on religion, sex, or physical disability, would, without a thought, make a joke or a simple remark that demonstrates not only ignorance, but a fear, of people suffering from mental illness. If you heard your friends making fun of or expressing doubts about depression and suicide as real illnesses, would you want them to see you sitting in the lobby of the Counseling Center in O’Boyle? Most likely not.
The fact that this stigma still exists, and is prevalent on college campuses, creates a vicious cycle that discourages those who need help from getting it before their illness spirals out of control, and when it does spiral out of control, it can become an even scarier issue that can continue to perpetuate stereotypes. Continued ignorance and fear about mental illness is dangerous, and if people, many of whom may be your friends, who need help, feel as though they can’t seek it, their illness may lead to additional and associated problems such as alcohol and drug abuse, cutting or other means of self-harm, and in the most drastic of cases, attempted suicide.
So, be there for your friends. You may not know that one of your closest friends is dealing with a mental illness. Think before the next time you make a lighthearted remark about suicide, bipolar, or ‘crazy people’ – it may not be lighthearted to everyone. It could be a matter of life and death.