Why We Need to Change Our Perception Of Mental Illness

Nearly 26.2 percent of Americans ages 18 and over suffer from a mental illness each year, according to the Kim Foundation. This translates into about a quarter of the American population who deal with the crippling effects of mental illness on a daily basis. These illnesses have a wide range, from anxiety, PTSD, depression and eating disorders. And, those are only a few that the DSM lists.

With so many mental illnesses out there, there is still a bad attitude towards those who suffer from them, whether it may be calling them “freaks” or “weirdos,” calling those who have a learning disability “retarded” or saying that they simply want attention. These perceptions can originate from many different places, from family members growing up, from media or from lack of knowledge. However, I believe that we as a society need to change this, so we can not only accept those who suffer from these illnesses, but encourage them to get the help that we need.

These negative perceptions have a variety of range, and can have an effect on the patient, because they feel almost as if they are not validated to feel what they are feeling. I suffer from anxiety and have experienced numerous panic attacks. One of the comments that I have received was “you are freaking out over nothing,” or “you are doing this just to get attention.” Honestly, let me ask you this. If I could control my panic attacks, don’t you think I would? Do you honestly think that I want to live with panic attacks that consistently put a stall on my life?

I didn’t think so.

I can honestly say that it is almost twice as hard to heal from a mental illness than a physical one. I myself can speak from my experiences, as it took nearly a year to get to a place where I can control my anxiety. During this time, it was like trying to fight a losing war, as I tried to change my way of thinking, tried to put myself first and figure out what treatment I needed to get better. Anxiety was not something I could just not “get over” at the snap of my fingers. Anxiety was something that consumed my body, taking over both my physical and mental states of being. By saying that anxiety is something that I simply can “get over” is both hurtful and offensive.

We need to stop those who suffer from mental illness to simply “get over it.” We need to change our perceptions of mental illness, and treat them with the same amount of respect, or even more, that we treat those who do not suffer from mental illness. We need to not disregard the symptoms that can not be helped. We need to listen to someone who is struggling with the effects of depression with a kind ear. We need to erase the r-word from our vocabulary.

Those who suffer from a mental illness do not deserve those derogatory terms. They do not deserve to be dismissed. Haven’t they been through enough without feeling that they are less than in a society? I think so.

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