America has placed mental illness on a rock-bottom level of importance for far too long. Our cultural landscape deeply values independence and the concept of pulling ourselves up by our bootstraps. As such, we ignore, dismiss or openly mock those who struggle with mental illness, even if we struggle with it ourselves deep down. We’re terrified of revealing any sort of weakness.
However, we have to let go of that reluctance in order to grow stronger, both for ourselves and for others. Instead of stigmatizing mental illness, we have to understand and work towards healing it.
Although this is a wide-ranging issue that can’t be solved immediately, we can all take individual steps toward mitigating its impact. Our little actions make a difference in the world. As Vincent van Gogh put it, “great things are done by a series of small things brought together.”
The best way to start putting together the small things is to understand and educate yourself on mental illness. There are many great informational websites to answer questions like why an anxious person avoids crowds or how depression can damage social relationships. Two good ones in particular are nami.org (National Alliance on Mental Illness, which is a grassroots organization for those with mental illnesses and their families) and reachout.com (an online resource for young people struggling with mental illnesses). You can also reach out to mental health advocates such as the Active Minds club on campus.
Another step toward de-stigmatizing mental illness is putting it into context with other illnesses. Likening mental illnesses to physical ailments, such as a broken arm or diabetes, can help transform our perspective on it. If you saw someone struggling to carry their books with a sprained ankle, you would rush to help them. In the same way, we need to reach out to those fighting with mental illnesses. Rather than viewing mental illness as something foreign and scary, we should approach it with compassion and respect.
Another way to lessen the stigma of mental illness is to be open about our experiences with it. As someone who has personally struggled with depression and anxiety, I make a point to discuss it as honestly as I can. For me, it’s worth it if my words reach just one person. Even if you struggled with short-term or milder forms of mental illness, speak out. It can be incredibly impactful to hear someone talk candidly about mental health when you feel alone in your battle.
A final, key aspect of being open about mental illness is to de-stigmatize therapy. Many of us fear therapy or see it as a last resort. Worries about gossip and condemnation keep many people away from an important service. However, therapy can be a wonderful tool for combating mental illness, and it’s no different than taking a trip over to your family doctor’s office. MSU’s Counseling and Psychological Services understands the anxiety surrounding therapy and incorporates a calming and welcoming atmosphere to reinforce the point that therapy is for everyone, regardless of background or circumstances.
We may not be able to change the face of mental illness in America overnight, but we can take concrete steps toward success. Simple understanding, kindness and respect make a lasting impact. Instead of leaving mental health to languish in the shadows, let’s work together to bring it into the light.
Counseling and Psychological Services
2nd Floor Swingle Building
East of the SUB
8 a.m. - 5 p.m.