By Kimberly Lifton
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.
Based on my own experiences, people with mental illnesses are ashamed to divulge anything about their illness because of the negative connotation attached to the words “mental illness”. There is a certain distinct stigma that comes with bipolar disorder. It is a mental illness that society still looks upon as a form of madness. Society’s stigmatization of mental illness prevents people from advocating for themselves and getting the help they need. It is paradoxical that a society that prizes freedom of speech is also one that silences people when it comes to mental illness.
Mental illness is not shameful, but stigma is. The stigma of mental illness is driven by fear and lack of knowledge. The solution to ending this stigma is education.
In the United States only 50% of public school students receive any education on mental health issues prior to college. Yet, the years between middle school and college have the highest percentage of United States youth suffering from mental illnesses. Of college students who were surveyed across the country, 50% reported their mental health as being below average or poor, and 30% reported problems with schoolwork due to mental health issues.
If mental illness is such a prevalent issue, why do schools not educate students on how to cope with it?
Society’s stigma towards mental illness has prevented awareness of mental health from being taught in schools, which enhances the impression that mental illness is something to be ashamed of. As a national community it is our duty to end the stigma towards mental illness in this country.
Local and national levels of government should become proactive in ending the stigma towards mental illness and educate those who may suffer or be at risk of mental illness. States need to make educating students on mental illness obligatory in public schools. Health classes cover nutrition and exercise in depth. Mental health is often superficially covered if at all, yet it is just as crucial to one’s health. Students should be taught how to identify when they may be suffering from a mental illness, where to seek help, and how to improve their mental health.
Education ends the cycle of stigma attached to mental illness. Ending the stigma is crucial to becoming a society that cares for people with mental illness with the same compassion as other ailments.