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Stigma and Society's Perception of Mental Illness

Every time I hear of gun violence in the news, I wonder how soon after the conversations about mental health, and mental illness, in particular, will follow. It’s usually not too long. With the recent stories of gun violence in the news, it’s been no different. People were quick to blame mental health issues for the actions taken by these individuals.
A couple of weeks ago, I volunteered to distribute sanitary products and a hot meal to the unhoused community of Washington D.C. through the impactful and committed organization, The Distant Relatives Project. The experience produced a mix of emotions. I felt heartbroken to see so many individuals in need; the worst of it was learning that a large number of unhoused individuals who struggle with mental health issues do not have access to professional help. It is a crisis.
As I’ve gotten older, I’ve learned that I’m someone who can become overwhelmed fairly easily. Sometimes, I think it developed in my adulthood, but maybe it’s just something I never noticed or had the words to identify as a child. Whatever the case, being overwhelmed negatively impacts my mental health, and I want to talk about it to address the stigma around it.
Allow me to join the chorus and say it’s Mental Health Awareness Month. Each year, the mental health community comes together during May to amplify the discussions around mental health to reduce the stigma of mental illness and show people they’re not alone in their struggles.
It’s one of the original facets of mental health stigma: the belief that negative thoughts are a choice. I’d wager nearly everyone has had someone tell them that at one point or another. Mental health stigma can manifest in many complex ways, but that idea is rather straightforward and simple. Despite that, it’s a truly grating form of mental health stigma and one I encountered again last week.
I, like many, have been called brave for sharing my experiences with mental health struggles. It’s always sat weirdly with me as I’ve never seen myself in that light. I’m not brave for sharing my mental health struggles. I can see how folks would see bravery in speaking up when mental health stigma is so rampant. Yet, the term still isn’t one I identify with. It doesn’t fit quite right.
As conversations surrounding mental health continue to garner traction and societal acceptance, shows like "Euphoria" are pushing the envelope in terms of the brutality of mental illness portrayed on television. Although intense at times, in my opinion, the show's strikingly raw and vulnerable portrayal of mental illness is carving a path for more acceptance and relatability surrounding the topic.
With so much of the mental health conversation taking place online, I can’t help but wonder if the Internet is helpful or harmful to combatting mental health stigma. Or maybe it's somewhere in between, both, or none of the above. Let’s take a closer look.
In today’s hustle culture, we pay less attention to work-life balance than perhaps we used to. Instead, we laud entrepreneurs that spend their waking moments putting effort into reaching success. We applaud those who have side gigs and celebrate the tenacity of those that go-go-go for their careers. In those situations, work tips the scales so that life is barely a blip on the radar, and in celebrating them, it suggests that’s what we should all strive for. If not, we’re not doing enough. Consequently, we ignore how tipping the scales of work-life balance leads to burnout and suggest that the state of our mental health doesn’t matter.
When "After Life" first hit Netflix in 2019, I was immediately in love with a show that deals with mental health, and raving about it. Now, three years later, after watching the final season, I’m raving about it all the more. Back then, I wrote about how impressed I was with how the show handles topics like grief and mental health struggles. Now, wiping away my tears thanks to the final episode, I’m here to say we need more shows like "After Life."