Op-Ed: Stop the Stigma

By Gabby Ramos | | Contributing Writer

If you look up the definition of “stigma” on Google, you will find that it is “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” Though that is technically true, what Google fails to tell us about stigma is that it kills. 

The stigma surrounding mental health isolates people who have done no wrong. The sad truth is that the society we live in has painted mentally ill individuals as people that should be alienated, as people that are inferior, or as people that are doomed and should be pitied and deemed your next charity case. We can thank our media for this as countless TV shows and movies depict mentally ill patients as murderers, sociopaths, psychopaths, and unstable creatures rather than human beings. The reality of it is that most people with some sort of mental health problem are just as likely to be violent as the typical person, but because of how stigmatized our society is, people do not think twice about feeling threatened or uncomfortable around people with mental illnesses. According to www.MentalHealth.gov,  only 3%–5% of violence or malicious acts can be tied to people who have severe mental illnesses. Moreover, individuals in the mental health community are over 10 times more likely to be victims of crimes than the general population. People have not tried hard enough to unlearn their past misconceptions about mental health despite its importance to everyday life.

Mentally ill people are around us every day and many may not understand how common and how large of a spectrum it really is. 1 in 5 adults have some sort of mental health problem at some point in their lives. Anxiety, depression, ADD, ADHD, and OCD are just some of the many mental illnesses that people can live with every day and no one would be able to tell because individuals can be high functioning. Mentally ill individuals don’t have a certain “look.” That person in your 9 am class who is always smiling, participating, socializing, and laughing can be the same person that goes back to their dorm room and cries themselves to sleep because of the severe depression they experience. 

This connects back to my first claim that stigma kills; whether people connect mental health with insanity or being weak, it still makes people suffering from mental health problems scared to reach out—especially men. 84 men A WEEK take their own lives. 75% of ALL suicides are male. Men are less likely to get help because of this stigma. 

People are scared to be judged, scared to be misunderstood, scared to be looked at differently, scared of being rejected and shunned.  Talking saves lives, so it’s a shame that talking is so hard sometimes.  Especially when we live in a society where people feel uncomfortable opening up because of the reactions they might get and because of that, the thought of talking and opening up is almost traumatizing.

The reason mental health is so hard to understand for those who don’t experience it is that it can’t be seen. If someone were to break their leg playing soccer, their injury would be something that would prevent them from doing certain things like going to practice or doing physical activity. If someone were to get the flu, their body would shut down and people would understand why the sick person might be bedridden for a week. These are things that people can physically see as a problem. Shift the perspective to someone with a mental illness: someone’s depression could take away their past interests and passions that this person has had for years; to others around them, there’s technically “nothing” that could have caused this change of character, and others could say it’s all in this person’s head. Again, this is a common example of stigmatizing mental health problems as something simple or non-existent. 

Mental health is just as serious as any other injury. The more people don’t educate themselves on the truth of mental health, the more alienated and misunderstood people who need help will feel. Suicides happen when individuals feel as though the world would be a better place without them. If people were to sympathize and learn the truth on what it means to have mental health struggles, there would be more inclusivity. 

Stop the stigma.

Stop unnecessary deaths.  

Sophomore Gabby Ramos is a contributing writer. Her email is gramos@fandm.edu.  

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