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This essay won second place in our High School Essay Contest this year.
No one would ever say, “It is just cancer. Get over it.” So why does society stigmatize people who suffer from mental illness? How come when people have a mental illness, society perceives them as if they are monsters? Why can every other organ in the body get sick and receive sympathy except for the brain?
One in four people suffer from mental illness. I am the one in four.
This essay tied for third place in our High School Essay Contest this year.
I live in Jamaica, a country rich with diverse ethnicities, personalities, and beliefs. As unique as the people of my country are, we all have one commonality, and that is the stigmatization of persons with mental disorders.
If stigma didn’t exist, we would discuss mental illness more openly. I had a recent unpleasant experience on Twitter where someone posted a tweet that essentially said “Bipolar is not an illness. You simply have not trained yourself to control your thoughts and emotions,” and this person was very insistent that mental illnesses do not exist.
At work the other day I heard someone say something disrespectful about people who live with bipolar disorder. I think they felt comfortable saying this in front of me because they did not know I have a mental illness. I was surprised and offended when I heard it, but I didn’t know what to say. We work closely together every day, and I wouldn’t want to make things awkward or jeopardize my position.
The story gets more interesting because I work in the mental health field where you wouldn’t expect to hear these things in the first place.
Kenya is a country on the East side of the African continent. Mental illness is still a taboo subject here. Even among the elite and educated citizens, witchcraft and curses are still considered the greatest cause of mental illness. It is common to read in the media that mass hysteria is caused by djinns or demons.
Mental illness can be an ugly disease to live with. People talk about the prejudice that they face when people know that they have a mental illness. I've been lucky. I've spoken before about sharing my condition with others and usually nothing too terrible comes from it.
Until this summer.
Sarah shares tips for telling someone that you have bipolar disorder, and what to do when someone has a negative reaction. She is speaking from her personal experience living with bipolar disorder.
When I was first diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I was in shock. I had no idea about mental illness or mania or psychosis. I had no idea that my brain could be responsible for altering my reality, for making me think certain thoughts, or for making me feel sad when there was no apparent reason. Up until that point, I took reality for granted, as if it were as constant as gravity. But in an instant, sanity became a precious commodity.