By Megan K.
I’ve often wondered what it would be like to tell the whole world my secret, to be able to live life without having to hide one of the biggest parts of it. Then I think about how my life would change, how people would treat me differently knowing that I suffer from a mental illness. According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness 1 in 5 people will suffer from a mental illness at some point in their life, and about 8 million of those people die each year due to mental illness.
Those are scary statistics and are due to a serious problem. The problem is not that people have a mental illness; it is that people share the fear that people will treat us differently.
I was treated differently after I shared with my closest friends that I live with a mental illness. When I first told them, they seemed supportive, but as the days went on our friendship just seemed off. We didn’t “click” like we used to. It eventually got to the point where we stopped hanging out completely, and would exchange awkward glances in the hallways and possibly a smile now and then.
Now, the splitting with my best friends could have quite possibly been a normal shifting of friend groups because, that is life. But either way, we didn’t fit together like we did before I told them. If it was coincidence, then so be it, but I felt so small at that time in my life. The time when I needed some normalcy, I didn’t have it. That demoralizing feeling I felt is something I never want to feel again, so I keep my secret to myself nowadays.
That fear is not in our minds. It is very real. People do treat you differently when they know you have a mental illness. Allison Smith, researcher for Journal of Mental Health and Humanist Counseling and Education, conducted a survey exploring how the public perceives mental illness. She said that the most common beliefs that existed were “people with mental illness are dangerous and need to be avoided, are to blame for their illness, are weak in character, and are incompetent and need oversight and care.”
These perceptions fuel the fire that is our fear. This keeps people from seeking necessary treatment because we’re afraid we’ll be treated differently. Not only do these perceptions make the fear worse, but it can also make the mental illness worse by increasing negative feelings felt by those affected by mental illness.
Think about your closest group of friends, family, classmates, etc. Think about how close you are with those people, all of the fun times you have had, the laughs, the smiles, those moments you will never forget. It’s likely that someone you know lives with a mental illness. Yet, you would never know unless they told you. People with mental illnesses are not dangerous or incompetent, or the word people hate most: weird. We have personalities, we have joy that we want to share with others, but we can’t do that if we are treated like a subset.
I am not my mental illness and neither is anyone else who lives with one. We are strong and wonderful people who want to live a normal life filled with fun and laughter just like everyone else. We are not different unless you treat us different, so don’t! I am still the same person I was before my mental illness…I am still me. Help end the stigma and fight back.