By Daniela Alvarez and Nasheetah Hossain
In our fairly recent history, mental illness was considered shameful. Those with mental illnesses were hidden away in sanatoriums and never mentioned again. Activists in the 19th century, such as Dorothea Dix, began a century-long battle against the federal government in favor of better treatment for mentally-ill patients. The 1960s marked the beginning of a new era for mental health activists because of support from John F. Kennedy, whose sister Rosemary was a victim of society’s discrimination against the mentally-ill.
Americans now have much more access to support thanks to the efforts of those pioneers seeking to destroy the stigma of mental illness. There have also been advances in medicine that give doctors a better understanding of mental illnesses than in the past.
However, despite the push for de-stigmatization, our current generation has an unsettlingly popularized mental illnesses especially on social media. People glibly post about being depressed over a Starbucks drink error or about feeling bipolar that day because they could not decide what to wear. As a result, discussion of these topics have become so diluted that it can be difficult to distinguish between what is real and what society has made “normal.”
“People mix ‘I have depression’ with ‘I’m depressed’ too frequently. This makes people not take anyone’s call for help serious. Many teens just take tests online and immediately diagnose themselves with mental illnesses without seeing a professional,” sophomore Lauren Magnus said.
When we remove the significance of these illnesses and disorders and mental illness in general by equating it to situations that misrepresent and disregard its impact does a great disservice to the many who suffer with a mental illness of some kind.
According to a study published by the Industrial Psychiatry Journal in India, “The absence of actual experience with people with mental illness, individuals rely on the media for their perceptions of those who have mental illnesses.” Thus, people may begin to erroneously believe that the events they see in the media, whether social media or television and film, are representative of the experiences others may experience in the real world.
It is important to remember the reality of living with these mental illnesses. In reality, the symptoms of mental illnesses like anxiety and depression are paired with much more serious symptoms such as insomnia, feelings of hopelessness, and feelings of complete abandonment.
According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Service Administration and U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, 47.6 million American adults surveyed in 2018 live with a mental illness, with 11.4 million experiencing more serious symptoms. Additionally, around 4.6 million young adults suffered from a major depressive episode in 2018.
The prevalence of this issue indicates its severity in society. For this reason, it is important not to undermine its seriousness by disregarding its grim reality. Providing more resources for individuals who need help, lending emotional support, and supporting advocacy groups, such as the National Alliance on Mental Illness, are great ways to start. Acknowledgement of the unpleasant reality of mental illnesses instead of glorifying them is yet another good practice.