When a person we know becomes ill, whether with something like cancer, the flu or just a simple cold, most people are quick to send them well wishes and tell them that they hope they get better soon. When a person’s lungs aren’t working correctly or they break a bone, we don’t look at them as if they are weaker and tell them to toughen up. After all, bones break, people get cancer, organs fail. As a community we accept that and we try our best to help those people get better. We look at almost all bodily ailments in this mindset. When you’re physically sick, tell someone, go to the doctor, get help.

I think all of these attitudes change, however, when it comes to a different kind of illness: mental illnesses. I’m talking about people who experience depression, schizophrenia, obsessive-compulsive disorder, bipolar disorder, etc. There’s a stigma surrounding mental illness in America, and it’s far from OK. People tend to view those with mental illnesses as weak and inferior. People who suffer from mental illnesses often feel as though they need to repress their issues and fight them alone.

This stigma surrounding mental illness leads people to believe that it’s OK to fall and scrape your knee and it’s OK if your heart goes into failure. All of these things are understandable. But your brain isn’t working perfectly? Are you crazy or insane? Do you feel sad a lot of the time? You’re hearing voices? That’s not OK. That’s just weird. There must be something really wrong with you. Why are you like that? And why can’t you just make it stop?

When that’s the attitude people have toward mental illness, when that’s what those who suffer from these illnesses hear, see and are taught by the media — which constantly perpetuates this negative stigma — how can we expect anyone to seek help, to speak out, to be anything besides embarrassed by their illness? We can’t.

It’s estimated that there are more than 54-million Americans suffering from mental illnesses and these numbers only involve people who seek help. There are many others who haven’t sought treatment. I know that I would be afraid to admit if I was depressed or bipolar because I wouldn’t want people to judge me and look at me differently. I wouldn’t want people to look at me like I am crazy.

Now think about what would happen if instead of looking negatively at people who suffer from a mental illness and instead of telling them that they just need to change their mindset, what if we encouraged them to seek help and treatment, just as much as we encourage people who have cancer to go to the doctor and seek treatment? According to the University of Washington, more than 90 percent of people who commit suicide also suffer from a mental disorder. All I can think about is whether some of these suicides could have been prevented if there weren’t a stigma against people with mental illnesses and if it was more acceptable for people to suffer from mental illness and thereby seek help.

The problem is that people can see a cut on your leg, or a broken arm, but people can’t see a mental illness. You can’t point to anxiety or schizophrenia and say “this is where it’s hurting” and put a Band-Aid on it and make everything better. Mental illness is seen as abstract and is difficult to understand for many people. However, if everyone learned more about mental illnesses and opened their minds I think we could change things.

I believe we could revolutionize the way people view mental illness by simply letting people know that they are still strong and that they are still normal even if they do suffer from mental illness. One small step would be to just stop using words like insane, which has clearly developed a very negative connotation. We need to not just make it OK for people to admit to others that they have some sort of mental illness, but to encourage them to speak out and support them when they do.

So, I’ll start. My name is Jordyn Kay, and I suffer from anxiety. I know that this doesn’t make me weak, or stupid, or broken, it just makes me someone who sometimes needs a little help, just like every other human being in the world.

Jordyn Kay is an LSA junior.

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