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Mental Health Stigmas: A Pressing Issue

TW: Discussion of Eating Disorders

The stereotypes surrounding mental health are no doubt engrained in our society; when most people think of eating disorders, they envision an emaciated teenage girl, with pale skin who doesn’t eat at lunch. The common image of a person with schizophrenia usually consists of crazy, paranoid behavior caused by people seeing things. You have probably heard someone call a person a “psycho”, or “bipolar”, as a response to someone’s actions. All of these common thoughts and stigmas that surround mental illness perpetuate the false truths and assumptions people make. It is one of the major reasons that so many people feel shame about their mental health or refuse to seek help.

I can say from first hand experience that stereotypes and stigmas can really impact self-esteem. I am someone who does well in school, has hobbies, and tries hard; I have also had severe depression since childhood. I can’t tell you how many times someone has invalidated me or just didn’t believe me. “But you’re so happy!” “Well you seem like you’re fine,” and “But you act like a normal person?” have all been responses I have received. It’s incredibly isolating and I felt like something was even more wrong with me. At times when I have been in the midst of a depressive episode, the attitude towards me completely changed. It becomes less “but you function just fine” and more “what happened to you?” when a sliver of my real struggle shines through.

The worst effect stigmas had on me personally surround people’s perception of body image issues and eating disorders. I am not underweight; I don’t look super skinny, I don’t workout all the time, and there are many times where I DO eat (sometimes too much). Even beyond the voice in my own head invalidating me, things others have said to me or done haunt my thoughts constantly, and reinforce the way I see myself. A lot of times it was not intentional, and I try to remember that. But being told that you should be working out more or need to be healthier, that maybe you shouldn’t wear that because it makes you look “boxy” or “wide”, add fuel to the fire that is my inner thoughts.

The problem is not that people are genuinely mean-spirited or purposely trying to invalidate someone. In fact, many don’t even realize what they are saying is being interpreted in that way. The problem is with how we as a society view mental illness and what that looks like in a person. Mental health comes in all shapes and sizes, and looks completely different for every individual. We need to begin the process of deconstructing the stigmas we have grown accustomed to and develop new perspectives on not only what mental illness looks like, but how we perceive and even more so treat people who are struggling. With a little more kindness and understanding, the topic of mental health can become less of a taboo and more of a concept essential to helping and understanding yourself and others.

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