Breaking the stigma: raising awareness of mental health

Katie Manning @HopeLoveEarth, Editor-in-chief

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Maintaining mental health is critical to living a happy and fulfilling life. As important as it is, mental health is oftentimes ignored or disregarded because many people seem to not want to associate themselves with mental illnesses. Unfortunately, there seems to be a stigma attached to mental health that those suffering chose to suffer, that they want to feel that way, and that they just need to toughen up and move on, which makes it harder for those suffering to ask for and receive help. The best way to help those suffering is to change this societal perspective on mental health by educating the community, increasing awareness, and removing the stigma attached to mental health.

Ultimately, as student assistance coordinator Ms. Nelson said, “Health, especially mental health, that’s first priority.”

Many wonder what defines mental health because, unlike physical health, mental health issues are usually harder to identify. They are not always apparent on the outside and can be thought of as a silent or internal war.

As school social worker Ms. Bobber said, “Sometimes you don’t know, you just think a student is sitting there, just being quiet and good and well-behaved, and really on the inside maybe they are really struggling to just hold it together and not fall apart in front of everybody.”

Some of the most common mental illnesses at Sandburg are anxiety, depression, and ADHD. Without meaning to, society puts pressure on students, which can exacerbate or trigger mental health issues such as anxiety and depression.

“Either because of test anxiety, peer pressure, pressure from home or the workload from classes, young people have a difficult time in coping with all these issues and their minds start to cause them to react in different ways,” said psychology teacher Mr. Geiger.

“What we’re seeing that’s huge now, which has always been kind of an issue, but I think it’s starting to escalate is anxiety. There’s so much pressure put on you guys nowadays,” said Ms. Nelson.
When students suffer from mental illnesses, they lose the ability to fully function in school and can possibly struggle to live a normal, happy life on a daily basis. Nevertheless, mental health issues are typically given less attention and are sometimes regarded as less important than physical health issues.

“Either because of test anxiety, peer pressure, pressure from home or the workload from classes, young people have a difficult time in coping with all these issues and their minds start to cause them to react in different ways,”
– Mr. Geiger

Mr. Geiger said, “The bottom line, in my mind, why mental health is less important than physical health is due to the fact that there is too much grey area in helping people. Most physical health issues are black and white and are easily treated in [a] short period of time. Mental health takes more time and effort to uncover and [to] cure.”

Compared to the black and white of physical health, mental health is very grey in the sense that the symptoms are not easily identifiable, multiple psychological, cultural, and physical factors can contribute to a mental disease, and that there is usually not a simple fix-all cure to mental illnesses. Because of how complicated mental health is to understand, many people have trouble relating to and understanding these diseases.

“Not everybody knows what it feels like to be depressed, or to have anxiety, or to have these extreme emotions sometimes. They might know what it feels like to be sad, but they don’t know a person who’s dealing with depression on a daily basis, what that’s like. So it’s really hard for people to empathize or understand what that person is going through. I think when somebody doesn’t understand, then that’s where the stigma comes from. Which makes it harder for somebody to ask for help, to talk about it, to know the right person or the right direction to go in, to get help, or even recognizing that it’s a problem,” said Ms. Nelson.

Because of the complexity of mental health, many people who are not struggling with a mental illness struggle to understand the situation of those who are suffering. When people do not fully understand something, they try to rationalize, but in this case, mental health is not something that can be easily rationalized.

Ms. Bobber said, “To me, there just seems to be a stigma on it, and I don’t really understand why there is a stigma to if you have a problem with mental health, then somehow it’s about you as a person, like, almost being bad. It’s like, okay, wait a minute, if I have diabetes, then people are very understanding. If I have another physical illness that I have to deal with on a daily basis, then it seems to be there that there’s support. The community and people are more than willing to rally around, create a t-shirt in your honor, and try to do fundraisers.

“When it comes to mental health though, people just don’t even want to talk about it, try to look the other way, they don’t wanna hear about it, and you don’t feel like, when you are that person that’s dealing with depression, or anxiety, or different things, it’s like I have to try to hide it because people are gonna not wanna be around me because I have something going on.”

That’s the real issue. Not mental illnesses themselves, but the fact that the stigma attached to these illnesses is ultimately preventing people from seeking the help they need and is teaching people the wrong ideas about mental illnesses in general. Just like physical illnesses, mental illnesses can be dealt with. The real concern is that if the stigma is not removed and if people do not understand, then the stigma will serve as a barrier in providing people with the help they need.

“There’s no shying away or feeling ashamed because you have cancer. It’s like, what can we do to help? District d230 has the largest all-youth relay for the American Cancer Society in the country, if not the world. It’s very much something that’s presented as a positive thing to be involved with, and to help, and to rally around behind,” said Ms. Bobber.

“But we don’t have that for any mental health issue. We’re not doing rallies, and walks, and nobody’s making t-shirts, and trying to promote awareness, better understanding, and acceptance. It’s something that hopefully will evolve. I hope it’s sooner rather than later. There’s just a lot of people that are suffering, and having to deal with things, and they need support and understanding. And we need to step up and do that.”

As a school, how can we remove this stigma and help those who are suffering?

Ms. Nelson said, “Education, education, education. Maybe if [people] know more about it, then they’ll be willing to talk about it.”

With regards to mental health, the key is to educate the community. By educating people, then we can increase awareness. By increasing awareness, hopefully, the stigma attached to mental health issues will slowly disappear, so that those suffering can receive the support they need and live happier and healthier lives.

“We’re not doing rallies, and walks, and nobody’s making t-shirts and trying to promote awareness, better understanding, and acceptance. It’s something that hopefully will evolve.”
-Ms. Bobber

 

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Breaking the stigma: raising awareness of mental health