by Hannah Paxton ’19
It’s difficult to understand something that we have little to no experience with or exposure to. People come from all different backgrounds, ethnicities, and races. But one thing many of us tend to forget is that there is a significant population of the world, particularly among young people, who suffer from a mental illness.
It is often because of that mental illness—whether it be anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or an eating disorder—that someone feels like they are different, or at least not “normal.”
Star Wars actress Carrie Fisher was diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder as well as bipolar disorder at age 24, and even in her last year she was always very open about her mental illness.
She was an inspiration to so many who felt like they couldn’t share their feelings, who felt like they had to hide their disorder. Carrie Fisher was an enormous help in the movement to normalize mental illness.
We are so unaware of the people around us; we don’t fully understand their situation. We talk about OCD as though it’s simply caring too much about little details and wanting everything to be organized. We talk about depression as though it’s what anyone can feel if they are sad one day.
But that’s just not how it works. While it may not be our fault that we aren’t fully exposed to mental disorders, it is important that we make an effort to understand them and the people who are diagnosed.
Carrie Fisher established the gravity of her mental illness, but never allowed it to marginalize her. Instead, she provided it as a reason for her to be respected. That is why talking about mental illness is so important.
We mistake being strong in spite of mental illness for being strong because of it. Mental disorders are hard, harder than most people think and give credit for, and those who suffer from them deserve respect as people who try everyday to overcome their obstacles—regardless of whether or not they are successful.
The more we talk about mental health and the more we normalize that discussion, the more comfortable people suffering from a disorder will feel in talking about it too. It’s hard to feel relaxed in an environment that ignores or mischaracterizes one’s hardships.
But we can’t just talk about it, we have to talk about it in the right way. It isn’t fair to diminish all the difficulties that people with mental illnesses have to face, and it certainly isn’t fair to act as though one’s mental health isn’t as important, if not more important, than physical health.
Not everyone with anxiety or depression or any other illness is going to feel comfortable speaking about it, and that’s okay. Regardless, we have to create an environment where that can be possible, an environment that doesn’t minimize or judge someone for their disorder. Like Carrie Fisher did so eloquently, we need to normalize mental illness, and we need to discuss it in the right way.