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Why the Mental Health Stigma Isn't Over for High-Functioning Students

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Please stop invalidating my illness because like any other illness, it is just that — an illness.

I am a student, and I believe stigma “isn’t over.” I walk through the halls, and I know the stigma isn’t over. I reach out for help and I can tell the stigma isn’t over. I am a student, and this is my story dealing with stigma.

Stigma “isn’t over” because I’ve heard countless comments on how I couldn’t possibly have a mental illness because of my academic standing. From, “you don’t seem like it,” to “but you’re so smart.” The words burn into me like a lighter held near paper — slowly and surely — with the pain of invalidation and lack of support. I have “high-functioning” disorders, which makes it easy for people to believe they are a facade, but it doesn’t make my illnesses any less real. I still struggle. I still hurt. And sometimes, tasks like putting my feet on the floor or turning on the bedroom lights are seemingly impossible. Just because one cannot see it, doesn’t mean it’s not there. Please stop invalidating my illness because like any other illness, it is just that — an illness. That is why the stigma isn’t over.

The stigma “isn’t over” because I can’t comfortably tell my teacher the reason why I’m absent without fear of disappointment or judgement. For some reason, “I was at the hospital for medication changes because of my mental illness,” or “I was taking care of my well-being,” doesn’t flow off the tongue as well as, “I broke a bone,” or, “I had the flu.” Yet all of these challenges are valid. I still cannot go to my teacher and ask for an extension on my assignment because of my mental well-being, but my classmate on the hockey team is given an extension without any questions asked. I can’t be exempt from exams, despite a hospital note for a mental health crisis, but concussions are exempt without hesitation. The stigma isn’t over.

Stigma “isn’t over” because I had to fight, and still have to fight, for accommodations because I don’t look like I have an illness, even though I have a hospital doctor’s letter in my student file. I was told that I was “too smart” to receive accommodations, despite my need for them. My intelligence has nothing to do with my illness; but my focus, anxiety, memorization and work ability does. That is why stigma isn’t over.

Stigma “isn’t over” because when I have a psychiatrist appointment, I feel the need to tell my school I have a dentist appointment when I sign out. Stigma isn’t over because when I reached out for school support, the first response I received was, “But you don’t look like it. You look fine.” Stigma isn’t over because my several peers and teachers believe I am less than others because of my illness. Stigma isn’t over because during the times I have no energy, I still have to put in the draining effort of justifying my feelings to a school. Stigma isn’t over because some people simply don’t care. Stigma isn’t over because I fear judgement when I ask for help and support. That is why stigma isn’t over.

We aren’t done fighting the good fight. We aren’t done advocating to stop the stigma. We aren’t done creating a movement to change how society handles mental illnesses. Because I am a student, and for me, the stigma isn’t over.

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Thinkstock photo via Design Pics

Originally published: August 28, 2017
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