When You Start Believing the Stigma of Mental Illness

My former roommate prompted this post. She put me down repeatedly and called me weak for doing possibly the strongest thing I’ve ever done — getting help.

If you think mental illness doesn’t have a stigma, then you might be contributing to it. Think about it — words like “psychotic” are spat out like poison. And no one’s supposed to hang out with people who are “not quite right in the head” or “insane.” Why? Because it might rub off? Last time I checked, hallucinations, compulsions and panic attacks are about as contagious as cancer.

And then, after all that, people decide it must be fun or easy to deal with mental health issues. We just don’t want to deal with things. We made it up. We just want attention. The truth? All we want is to be “normal.” While you’re thinking about how easy it is to stay in bed all day, we’re thinking about how easy it must be to be like everyone else. How easy it must be to know that you’re seeing the same thing as everyone else. How easy it must be not to “freak out” over something that isn’t scary. How easy it must be to go about life without knowing that in a second, everything could change and you could be completely incapacitated with no one to help you.

Others only seem to see two types of mental illness. Those who have “completely lost it” and those who are pretending, enviable because they can get out of things. They don’t see how truly desperate these people are to escape. I’ve tried to find experimental treatments and trials to join, from horse tranquilizers to brain surgery. “That’s ridiculous — you don’t need that, you’re just a little sad.” Well, you don’t understand, you can’t understand, what it’s like for something to always be there. And that’s OK. I envy you. And I really hope you don’t envy me. Because there is no one I would wish a severe mental illness on. Because it doesn’t just stop. It doesn’t take breaks no matter what is going on.

This stigma affects the people who actually suffer from these conditions. Especially because after a while, we start to fall into the trap. We believe we must be faking. We believe maybe we should and could just “snap out of it.” We believe we are weak for getting or accepting help. So on top of everything else, we put off getting help and hide our conditions. We don’t want anyone else to know because they might think we are weak. The disorder lies to us and others seem to agree. It’s hard for us to decide which voice to listen to. Who is right? Especially since we know everything could change it in a second.

This is what happened to me and this roommate. She she made it seem like mental illness was no big deal, and I believed her. She was confirming the things I was already thinking. While others protested, I couldn’t believe them. I wasn’t that bad. There were tons of people who waited more time to get help and were therefore worse than I was. I was faking it. I was over-exaggerating. I was needy. I was weak.

I know these things are not true. I know those who are close to me and care about me are correct. I know it. I try to believe it. And I try not to listen to the negative forces in my life, both external and internal. But it’s hard. That is something I think everyone can agree on, mental illness or not.

This is my take. I use “we” meaning people living with mental illness, but this is only my reality. There are exceptions; we are not all the same. But at the same time, we’re really not all that different from everyone else. Don’t be afraid of us. Don’t make assumptions. Treat us the same way you would treat someone with diabetes. Diabetics may need special medication or watch what they eat. But it would be silly not to talk to someone because she or he were a diabetic, right? And it would be just as silly not to talk to someone because she or he had a mental illness. Don’t believe the stigma.

Follow this journey on Cassandra’s Curse.

The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us a story about a time you encountered a commonly held misconception about your mental illness. How did you react, and what do you want to tell people who hold his misconception? If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

Find this story helpful? Share it with someone you care about.

Related to Mental Health

5 Things to Do When You're Worried About a Friend's Mental Health

I often run student workshops on a range of issues related to mental health and emotional wellbeing.  Regardless of the precise topic, the most common question students ask me is: “What should I do if I’m worried a friend has a mental health issue?” Perhaps it’s something you’re wondering about, or you’d like to be [...]

22 Messages for People Who Think They 'Don't Deserve' Therapy

Sometimes the first step is the hardest. A step towards acceptance. A step towards treatment. A step towards recovery. When you live with a mental illness, often times that step involves therapy. But therapy can be a scary concept, especially if the same voice in your head that’s fueling your mental illness is saying you don’t [...]

When the Cause of My Symptoms Was Literally ‘All in My Head'

I’ve got my fair share of labels and I am often very honest and open about them and what they do to me. But I haven’t opened up about one of my diagnoses. Why? Like most people with a somatoform disorder, I have been too embarrassed, even ashamed to admit it. When I was 17 [...]

Woman With Mental Illness Posted Selfies to Help Employers Identify 'Fakers'

In response to an article published by The Sydney Morning Herald about how employers can identify people who are “faking” mental illness to get out of work, writer Anna Spargo-Ryan posted two selfies to show how easy it is tell when someone’s faking it. Her message: The concept is bogus. “These photos of me were taken three [...]