THE SANTA CLARA
April 7, 2016
People often have difficulty understanding that mental illnesses are just as serious as physical ailments and diseases. Both types of illnesses require medical treatment of some sort, and for the most part won’t go away on their own.
My sister was hospitalized for pneumonia when she was one year old. Her hospital room was full of flowers, cards and balloons. Our fridge was packed with trays of lasagna and our house full of relatives.
Years later, my sister was hospitalized for depression. The sadness in her bedroom was palpable.
When my sister was physically sick, everyone acted as a lifejacket helping her stay afloat during a time of need. However, when hospitalized for mental instability, she was left alone to pull herself out of all ready dark waters.
According to a 2014 report by the National Alliance for Mental Illness, one in five Americans will experience a mental illness at some point in their lives. That statistic doesn’t account for relatives and friends who are impacted by each person’s diagnosis as well. This number is too high to ignore.
But we still don’t talk about the issue of mental illness, despite these overwhelming statistic. The stigma attached to having a mental illness is too strong to fight because it labels a person as weak. People would rather be considered strong, and therefore shy away from conversations which address these issues.
Yet the tendency to avoid these discussions is the true source of the problem. Unless we talk about the problem, we will continue to live in ignorance.
The fear associated with my sister’s illness stemmed from the realization that, to an extent, it was the stigma that kept her from openly talking about it. This caused her to spiral into a seemingly inescapable hole.
Naturally, puberty can send the healthiest of teenagers into an emotional frenzy. Maturing physically and emotionally inevitably leads to questions about self-worth, adding to the difficulty of diagnosing mental health issues.
However, the blurred lines and misconception between a bad mood and depression led my family to assume that my sister was “just being a teenager.” They didn’t consider getting my sister help until it was almost too late.
We must give those who are suffering a chance to speak, without fear of being attached to a stigma. We’re too willing to shove the topic of mental illnesses out of our minds.
Staying silent is easier than addressing a sensitive issue. But those who are diagnosed with a mental illness don’t need protecting, they need understanding.
Both pneumonia and depression require a period of recovery. If we look at both healing processes, these two seemingly different realms of illness become interchangeable.
The real difference is that the symptoms of a mental illness are not always visible. The physical therapy of recovering from an illness like depression is just as difficult.
How can those suffering from mental illnesses expect to be understood when the majority of our society refuses to take the time to learn about them?
We sympathize, but we don’t empathize. We protect, but we don’t understand. In a society that levels them as weak, those suffering with mental illnesses do not receive true support. And this needs to change.
Lauren Mahoney is a sophomore communication and psychology major.