Commentary: Why we need to end the stigma around mental illness

By Claire Horton

I am 19 years old and I have had anxiety for as long as I can remember. I’ve only just started to treat it in the past couple years.

Why? Because I was afraid and ashamed that somehow it was my fault. The culture around mental illness for a long time has been to deal with it yourself. No one wants to tell the world that they worry incessantly about the one in a billion events or spend all night replaying interactions and conversations that they had wondering “what if?” The stigma makes it incredibly hard for someone to stand up and say that they need help.

Thankfully, there is more acceptance and awareness now. There are all kinds of resources available, a big one being National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI).

Mental illness is a broad term, there are myriad things that fall into this category: Depression, anxiety, obsessive compulsive disorder, schizophrenia and bipolar disorder are just some illnesses. There are medications that can help manage symptoms and rebalance brain chemistry. Therapy is another big tool to help manage a mental illness. The thing is, everyone is unique, which means that it can take a while to find the right combination of medicine and therapy to help someone.

Having lived through this, I can say that it sucks. You feel like nothing is happening and you want to try something else. The four to six weeks that it can take to have a true effect can feel like four to six years. There is no pause button for your life while you are waiting to feel better. Hopefully you have people to lean on to remind you, “It takes four to six weeks for the medication to take effect. Hang in there.”

Writing this, I am thankful to those who kept me alive and reminded me that there is a light at the end of the tunnel that doesn’t have to end with me ending. This stigma makes it excruciating to have a mental illness and want to reach out for help but feel like you could be judged, unloved or even unworthy. Some may judge you, but remember that you are loved and are worthy.

No one can take those from you. You are the only one who can.

I know that it is hard to be open and vulnerable to others, so start small. Choose one person whom you love and who loves you. You can write to them what you are feeling; you can talk to them in person or over the phone. Find what makes you comfortable. Talk about boundaries. Be aware that if you say something that involves you hurting yourself or others or if you are being hurt, most people will not and should not keep that to themselves. Be authentic to yourself, try not to judge yourself, and be honest. The whole point is to have someone you can go to when you have a bad day or whatever. If you aren’t honest with them or yourself, it doesn’t help you.

Find a community in which you are comfortable being you. They exist; trust me. I was lucky to grow up in one. My church, St. Mary’s Episcopal, has been a safe harbor for me. Not everyone has a place where they feel safe and loved, and that is a be loved and feel safe. Often those who don’t try to commit suicide. Or do commit suicide. When that happens it is sad and tragic and even worse is that in most cases it could have been prevented. This is why we need to end this stigma around mental illness.

If you feel lost, unloved, lonely or unworthy, whatever has you thinking that your life is not worth living, get help and reach out to a friend, teacher, family member or trusted adult because life is precious and you only get one of them.

There is a term, “agape,” which is God’s unconditional love for you. I believe that God has unconditional love for all, those who believe in him, those who don’t, those who don’t know what they believe, those who are in need of it and those who don’t think they need it, all of humankind.

Claire Horton lives in Falcon Heights.

 

 

 

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