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The Stigmas of Mental Illness

by Nicole Siguenza, Staff Writer

Photo by: Jason Henegan

As psychology and science advance, the knowledge and classification of mental illnesses have become more widely known. This provides people who have mental illnesses greater access to resources, along with providing education about these illnesses to family and friends. However, there is a dichotomy where these mental disorders are either stigmatized or romanticized, leaving many people struggling silently, too afraid to come forward.

Unfortunately, many negative stigmas are still attached to the reality of mental disorders. Some people believe that, since they cannot see any obvious sickness or unhealthiness in a person, that mental illnesses do not exist. People with mental illnesses are faced with fears of being judged, called attention-seeking, considered weak or inferior, or are cast off as “crazy.” This negative mindset that society has can sink into the mind of a person, detrimentally affecting those afflicted with mental illnesses and convincing them that they are not good enough. In addition, they can also fear having their illness belittled through romanticization.

Most notably via social media, romanticization of mental illnesses has increased, encouraging the development and persistence of mental disorders while invalidating them or portraying such disorders to be poetic instead of being a serious problem. Tumblr had to shut down a “thinspiration” tag that encouraged eating disorders through tasks titled “anorexia bootcamps” and posted pictures primarily depicting emaciated, undernourished girls. Still, it is not difficult to find references to anorexia nervosa as a friend named “Ana” or bulimia nervosa as “Mia.” Instagram is also filled with accounts dedicated to poems about self-harm or references to depression as only being an affliction lasting a day or two. Even in everyday life people refer to things like being nervous or the brief moments of panic after losing something as being panic/anxiety attacks or liking items to be very organized as indicating they have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder. These insignificant phrases can make people who are actually struggling with such issues feel like their illnesses are trivial or unimportant.

The National Institute of Mental Health defines the medical symptoms that classify mental illnesses. Anxiety disorders–including general anxiety (GAD), social anxiety (SAD), and panic disorder–are cases of ongoing anxiety, irrational or uncontrollable fear, and nervousness that last a minimum of six months. Eating disorders–including anorexia nervosa, bulimia nervosa, and eating disorders not otherwise specified (EDNOS)–are characterized by a severe disturbance to everyday eating and the urge to eat spiraling out of control at some point. Clinical depression involves prolonged feelings of emptiness, hopelessness, and loss of interest in pleasurable activities. Obsessive-compulsive disorder involves repetitious rituals that interfere with daily life and are distressing to the person afflicted. By educating everyone on what mental disorders are and by accepting them as illnesses, a safer environment would be created for people with these disorders. Through on-campus seminars and discussions, Leigh High School could encourage the movement towards mental illness education while supporting students on campus who deal with mental illnesses themselves.