Mental Illness Stigmas & the Pain They Cause

Girl feeling ashamed with hands clasped in front of face

Disclaimer: The goal of Conquer with Na’Kole is to provide education and support for moms (and concerned loved ones) as they conquer the giants that seek to conquer their children. I, Na’Kole Watson, am not a licensed mental health professional nor am I offering professional mental health services or advice. Therefore, I accept no liability or responsibility to anyone as a result of any reliance upon the information produced on this site or in any communication issued by Na’Kole Watson and Conquer with Na’Kole. The views expressed on this and any other affiliated website are my own, and all sources are linked. If you are in crisis, please contact The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-8255. If this is an emergency, please dial 911 immediately.

Every year, the first week of October is dedicated to bringing awareness about mental illness. In honor of this monumental time of education, empowerment and awareness, I want to take a moment to speak to a very real issue in the mental health community: the stigmatization of those who deal with mental illness. Before we talk about mental illness stigmas and the pain they cause, it’s important to understand what stigmas are.

A quick Google search defines a stigma as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” This is a very accurate depiction of what people who deal with mental illness also have to overcome every single day. They are marked and often ostracized because of a condition that they often cannot control and definitely did not ask for. Although there are other illnesses that carry stigmas (such as HIV/AIDS), it is important to note that mental illnesses, from my personal experience, are often the most stigmatized.

Here is how the American Psychiatric Association defines mental illnesses:

“Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.”

Let’s take a moment to look at some of the stigmas and the pain they cause:

People with mental illnesses are “crazy people”.

I cannot begin to tell you the number of times I’ve heard people refer to people with mental illnesses as crazy. Granted, we all use the word “crazy” to describe things and people — but there is a difference in saying “she’s acting crazy” and literally labeling someone with a mental illness as a “crazy person”… or is there? #SomethingToThinkAbout

Here’s the problem with labeling people with mental illness as crazy people. When we do this, we often discourage people from seeking any kind of help with their situation. Mental illness is a condition of the mind, therefore, the illness itself is not seen. The only thing we see are the results of the illness. There are lots of people with undiagnosed mental illnesses who never seek help because in their minds (or according to what they’ve been told), they’re “just crazy”. No one wakes up one morning and says “Well I believe I want to suffer from something that changes the way I think, emote or behave.” No one does that — at least not anyone I have ever encountered. Labeling someone as a “crazy person” is no different than labeling a person with a physical or cognitive disability as a “retard”. Both are wrong. Just as society has made shifts from using the word “retard” to describe people, we need to make the same shift from using words like “crazy”, “psycho”, etc. Mental illness is just as real of an illness as diabetes, cancer, heart disease, etc. We don’t use negative slurs to label those people, and we should not use negative slurs to label people who suffer from mental illnesses.

People with mental illnesses are attention-seekers.

I have such a personal problem with this statement. Let me explain. If you fell and hurt yourself, and no one was there to see it, but there were people within earshot who could help you — would you make noise so that those people could hear you, or would you sit there in silence? If you say that you’d make noise, then you, my friend, would be seeking attention. Right? You’d do what you had to do to get someone to pay attention to you, even if they weren’t immediately aware of what your problem was. Right? Right.

Granted, there are some people who claim to have mental illnesses just to get people to pay attention to them (which in itself points to some type of mental illness). Granted, there are people who use their mental illnesses as a crutch and a way to manipulate people. However, it is important to realize that the “attention-seeking” is a symptom of a problem that needs to be solved. What if you were on the floor in need of help after your fall and the people in the other room just said, “Oh, he/she is just trying to get attention.” That wouldn’t sit well with you, right? Your thought would be, “Of course I’m trying to get attention! I’M HURTING!” The same thing applies when it comes to people who deal with mental illnesses. Don’t be so quick to just write them off as attention-seekers. Doing so only prolongs their pain.

People with mental illnesses should shake it off. We all have hard times. They need to grow up and stop being weak.

Like people with diabetes? Like people with cancer? Like people with lupus? Sickle cell? Heart disease? MS? Cystic fibrosis? Please don’t tell people with mental illnesses that they should just “shake it off”. Mental illness is not something that can be “shaken off” any more than the aforementioned illnesses are.

Please be kind to people. If you do not understand mental illness, please educate yourself. If you are not going to take the time to educate yourself, please don’t spend your time making derogatory remarks to or towards people who are suffering with mental illness. This world is cruel enough, and people have enough to deal with on a daily basis. If you can’t help them, please don’t do anything that could possibly set them back. No one deserves that. You never know how your actions and words affect others — so it’s good to always be kind. Sometimes, the kindest thing you can do for a person is to refrain from speaking about what you’re not educated about. Let’s end the stigma around mental health. Let’s make people feel safe enough to admit that they are dealing with these struggles. Let’s support each other. We all need each other!

If you are struggling with your mental health, it is okay to seek help. Doing so doesn’t make you weak. It doesn’t make you less of a person. As a matter of fact, it exemplifies strength and courage. Please contact your local mental health professional to find out about your options. If you’re feeling suicidal, feel free to reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by phone at 800–273-TALK (8255). They also offer a chat service that can be accessed by clicking here. Be lifted!

Thanks for reading!

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