The importance of normalizing mental health

Mental health is a topic that can be hard for many to discuss, specifically if somebody is doing unwell with coping with problems that can arise from it. There are many different ways that people choose to go about this category of issues, but more often than not, there is a negative stigma associated with having mental struggles or disorders. This is something that needs to be changed for various reasons: for people to seek out help, to inform people about what it feels like and to make needed accommodations in order to help people. In a time where anxiety and depression disorders are rapidly increasing, as well as other stresses and fears in general, it is more important than ever to work to remove the stigma around mental health.

In a society that advertises success, perfection and productivity as the “norm,” that can be very damaging to people who suffer from mental illnesses. Those goals can become a lot harder to obtain as, instead, their body and mind are busy trying to deal with a different and potentially more harmful thing at the same time. For example, if somebody is trying to learn to cope with major (and potentially inhibiting) anxiety, they’re more likely trying to focus on making that overwhelming anxious feeling go away instead of trying to further their grades at school. While both issues are important, doing school work while being heavily anxious makes the workload even more straining to fix both in the aspect of focusing enough to complete the task but what could come next if you don’t.

If you don’t complete tasks as expected of you, this can lead to shame, frustration and feeling like a failure. All around, these are bad options, but the struggle doesn’t end there. For people who struggle with mental issues, they can be outcast by those around them. While this can be caused by a variety of things, such as not understanding how they feel, a lot of times it is from the false perception that mentally ill people function at a “subpar” level, therefore making them that as well. While it is true that mentally ill people can function at a different level than those without mental illnesses, this does not make them less in any way of that word. Instead, this is a harmful idea that can lead to worse consequences. According to the National Institute of mental illness, only 44.8 percent of adults with any mental illness received health services in the entire year of 2019—44.8 percent out of 51.5 million adults with any mental illnesses. They found that the number of men who received help was a lot less than women as well. Out of those in the study, it also only counts adults who have any known mental illnesses, but due to the stigma around mental health, there could be many more who have mental health issues but they either don’t have access to mental health services, are too afraid to ask (either for themselves or what could happen if they do) or won’t admit that they have an issue. 

Not only is it harmful from a lifestyle standpoint, but admitting you have a mental illness is just one step to getting treatment and learning how to properly cope with it. A lot of people need that extra boost from therapy, medicine and/or so much more. If they are too ashamed or scared to seek treatment, then they will be stuck in the cycle. This cycle can be continued from an internalized factor of negative feelings or those around them preventing them from getting treatment. Regardless, both forms are very harmful and can lead to worse consequences. For example, when I was younger, this stigma around mental health really prevented me from getting treatment. I was given a screening sheet at a doctor’s appointment and I instantly knew what it was: a mental wellness check. However, instead of answering honestly and getting the help that I could’ve greatly benefitted from, I lied. I was worried about what might happen to me or what others might think of me if they knew how I really felt. This same stigma has repeatedly worked against me and others, from making it hard to ask for help to working to actively suppress our voices and feelings. I am not the only one who has been “looked down upon” for having a mental illness; some people have been fired or don’t get as many work opportunities for the fact that they have a mental illness alone. This is one of many examples of those who have been affected by the stigma. 

Due to the many ways that the mental health stigma has destroyed opportunities, it begins to take a toll on individuals as well. The stigma can get into the head of people and further break down their confidence, support systems and their own mind. It can spread to the point where somebody who has a mental illness doesn’t seek help because they believe they “deserve it” or are “a failure,” as commonly discussed in mental health circles. 

It’s important to work against the stigma of mental health in order to make sure that everybody receives the proper care and support that they need to thrive. While it is no easy step, it is something that must actively be fought against in order to try and obtain. There are many methods to do this, but one big step that can actively be done is by talking about your own mental health, good or bad, to others and creating spaces in which people can talk about theirs. Additionally, taking the time to educate yourself and others about the topic is another influential way to break down the barriers around this issue. It won’t always be easy to do, but if a collective effort is made, the problem will seem a lot less daunting. 

So go talk to one of your friends about how they’re doing and genuinely listen. You never know who’ll need it most.