A mental illness is a disease that causes mild-to-severe disturbances in thought and/or behavior which results in an inability to cope with life’s ordinary demands and happenings. Most people believe that mental disorders are uncommon, which often lead to negative beliefs and false accusations about what exactly it entails. According to the National Alliance on Mental Alliance (NAMI):
- Approximately 1 in 5 adults in the US experience mental illness in a given year
- Approximately 21% of youth aged 13-18 and 13% of children aged 8-15 experiences a severe mental disorder at some point in their life.
Needless to say, the notion that mental disorders are rare and likely “happen to someone else” is false. When diagnosed with a mental illness, most people and their family members are not prepared to cope with the idea of having a mental illness and the emotional and behavioral turmoil that can happen with a lack of treatment.
There are more than 200 diagnoses for mental illness; common disorders include: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, etc. Similar to physical disorders, mental illnesses impact people physically as well as emotionally and psychologically. Mental illnesses may be by a reaction to environmental stresses, genetic factors, biochemical imbalances, or a combination of any of those.
“A [person’s] mental health is just as important as their physical health and deserves the same quality of support. No one would feel embarrassed about seeking help…if they broke their arm–and we really should be equally ready to support [someone] coping with emotional difficulties.” – Kate Middleton
What are things people with mental illness want you to know?
- Having a mental illness does not make someone “crazy”. End of story.
- Similarly, misusing the names of diagnoses is not only offensive, but it’s not funny. Be mindful of the words that you use and how they might hurt others. The following two examples are commonly misused words regarding mental illnesses.
- If the weather is quickly changing (it was raining on Monday morning and then it’s sunny by the afternoon), saying “The weather is so bipolar today”.
- If someone keeps their personal space really organized and they say “Oh, I’m being so OCD today…”
- Mental illness is not something someone can just “get over”. It takes time, treatment, and acceptance to manage a mental health condition. This isn’t something someone can “snap out of” and it certainly isn’t “all in their heads”.
- Like most people, some days are better than others. People with mental illness may experience more ebbs & flows throughout their lives and to more extremes.
- This was mentioned earlier, but there is a negative stereotype associated with mental illness. Few people diagnosed with a mental illness feel that others are compassionate or understanding of their condition. Rather than shaming someone and contributing to the stereotype, offer some compassion. A little bit of love goes a long way.
- People with mental illness do not want you to feel sorry for them. Don’t show anyone pity–rather, show compassion (as mentioned above). There is a difference between showing sympathy and showing pity. Providing support, love, and patience is always appreciated.
- People do not “suffer” from mental illness. It’s common to hear someone say “Oh, that person suffers from depression” (or any other mental illness). People don’t suffer from it, they live with it.
- People are not their mental illness. Just because someone has schizophrenia does not make them “a schizophrenic”. People who have mental illnesses do not let it define them so others should acknowledge that, too.
People with mental illness are regular people, too. Treat them as such!
“You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality.” – Julian Sifter
Please review the following resources for more clarification about mental illness: