What do you think of when the phrase “Mental illness” comes to mind? Do you see yourself or have you compartmentalized it as something that is different? We all have something come to mind and that’s where the stigma starts–with us. We have to come to a healthy understanding that our brains are an organ and some of us require medication similar to a diabetic needing insulin. Depression and anxiety are considered mental illnesses and everyone has an idea of what those conditions are, whether it’s based on facts or assumptions. I’ve come across many people who think of depression as simply being really sad. Although that may be part of it, there are many physical symptoms of depression. Some will say anxiety is stress. Those of us with anxiety can tell you that it’s so much more than that. We can feel anxious even when there is no stress.
Ending the stigma starts with each of us with the illness educating ourselves and renewing our minds to accept that our illness is considered a mental illness and understanding all of the symptoms. And then, talk about it. Educate others on what it really is so they can change the perspective in their mind of what mental illness looks like and line it up with facts and truth. Be honest with your doctors and tell them every symptom even if it doesn’t seem related to depression or anxiety. Doctors and nurses very much rely on what we tell them. I flew under the radar for years with my depression, mostly because I didn’t know what was wrong with me. I wish doctors would screen every patient with a few simple questions and then dig deeper if needed. Since there isn’t a blood test, doctors rely on our symptoms and if we leave information out, they could miss the diagnosis. I’ve talked to many medical professionals that have told me I don’t look the part. I didn’t know what was wrong with me so I didn’t know to ask the doctor about depression and to the doctors, I was a high functioning business woman who was very put together and well spoken; but, I was dying on the inside. My world was so joyless, so dark, and I was so fatigued and generally felt ill most of the time. The doctors recognized my chronic fatigue but never connected it to depression until I got really bad and went to a Psychiatrist, whom I still work with today.
I run a private group on Facebook and did a poll to find out how many people disclosed their illness to their employer. Most said they have not. Why? Because we’re afraid of jeopardizing our careers, or worse, our reputations. This is because the stigma is alive and well. The only way the stigma is going to end is with awareness and education. And, that starts with us. We know the illness personally and we have to talk about it to others. The statistic in the United States is one in five adults will at some point in their lives have a diagnosable mental illness. That means it’s very likely that you will meet others with the illness or others who have loved ones with the illness. Let’s pray to end the stigma by having the courage to start talking about our illness with others. God will use you to comfort others along the way with the same comfort He has given you.