End the Stigma: Mental Health & Suicide Prevention


BY ANONYMOUS

In the United States, one in four adults will suffer from a mental health disorder in any given year. [1] With suicide as one of the leading causes of death in this country, you would think that our culture would pay attention to the fact that over 90 percent of all those individuals who die by suicide have a diagnosable mental health disorder. [2] But our society muffles the cries for help under masks of success and feigned smiles and by brushing off depression as merely "a phase." I speak as an ongoing survivor of chronic severe depression, suicidal temptations, and the extreme proclivity to undervalue my own life and dignity: the stigma of mental health disorders in our culture can be crippling to anyone searching for help and hope. And it shows: less than one-third of all adults with a currently diagnosable mental health disorder are given necessary treatment. [3] This could be partially due to a lack of resources and access, but I firmly believe that the stigma against mental health disorders has created a ripe ground for some of the worst violence against self that we have seen in the last few decades.

Photo by Eric the Fish on flickr; some rights reserved.

I have suffered from anywhere from mild to severe depression since I was in my middle school years, and it's something that I just haven't been able to shake. Suicidal thoughts were the norm for me for a year or two, and to this day when I enter a sneaky self-hate spiral, I face the worst demons. But only in the last four years have I sought help in a more long-term fashion, and thus experienced the stigma that comes with owning up to my own mental health difficulties. In high school, I was labeled "crazy," "insane," or "needy" if I sought help or openly spoke about my suffering. I did my best to hide my struggles and trudge through life.

But while at my undergrad, the challenge became not dealing with teasing or childishly hurtful remarks but rather professional pressures and worldly expectations that every single student should be the "perfect student" and the most successful future alumnus. That culture drove both me and some of my fellow first-year architecture students to severe anxiety, depression, hypertension, insomnia, and other maladies, both physiological and psychological. As the time went by, we would joke about our workloads, brag about how little sleep we would get, shrug off our tears and our pain, and keep our mental health struggles mostly at bay with the little-consoling remark that "everyone else is doing this too." And this classroom culture only further propelled the stigma against seeking help; students would alienate the quiet one or ignore the silent tears across the table and the sobbing screams from stairwells. No one wanted to be seen walking into the Counseling and Psychological Services office; no one would seem to recognize you in that waiting room or offer help once outside of it. All of this has become obvious as my alma mater mourns at least the second suicide of a student in the past four years. It's obvious that something isn't working.

One of the threads that runs throughout so many cases of depression is that of self-hate, yet stigma against mental health disorders and the search for help for such struggles can only worsen and compound the effects of depression's hold. This holds true for me, and I know many friends who face the same fate in our society. There are a plurality of psychologists, psychiatrists, and trained counselors who can give proper care for such conditions -- but not only do I see a lack of access due to financial constraints, I gravely see so many people refusing care because they do not want the word to get out about their mental state. These situations can lead to both undiagnosed cases and uncared-for conditions, which in turn could lead to a much higher chance of suicide.

Of course, I'm not only talking about depression when I talk about mental health disorders, but I hope you can at least see from my own personal example what it is like for a young person today facing the world with a mental health disorder. Mental illness knows no racial, economic, age, or locational boundaries and can strike at any time; that's the danger and the fragility of every human situation. My call is for greater care and compassion towards all, especially those with mental illness. We would not shame a person for being unable to work due to a severe case of cancer or kidney disease; why, then, would anyone in our society think it acceptable to shame or ignore such a condition as severe depression or bi-polar disorder? If we truly want to represent a culture that is pro-life, then we also have a responsibility towards our fellow human brethren to end the stigma of mental health disorders and love thoroughly in our words and actions. If we want to work for a culture that values every human life, then we will offer a helping hand and an open heart: we will not bully or stigmatize anyone, especially the many people who suffer day in and day out with an illness and a struggle that we merely cannot see.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with a mental health disorder and depression, please seek help. National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) Information & Referral Helpline:

1 (800) 950-NAMI (6264)

REFERENCES

[1] Kessler RC, Chiu WT, Demler O, Walters EE. Prevalence, severity, and comorbidity of twelve-month DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication (NCS-R). Archives of General Psychiatry, 2005 Jun;62(6):617-27.

[2] National Institute of Mental Health. Suicide in the U.S.: Statistics and prevention. Available at www.nimh.nih.gov/publicat/harmsway.cfm.

[3] U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Rockville, Md., U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration, Center for Mental Health Services, 1999, pp. 408, 409, 411.

#volume2issue2 #suicide

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