Ending the Stigma

by The Cowl Editor on April 12, 2018


National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI)
Photo courtesy of NAMI Rhode Island


by Hannah Paxton ’19

Asst. Opinion Editor

“Mental illness has nothing to do with if you’ll be successful or not,” said Brown University graduate student, Seth Akers-Campbell. Last Wednesday’s “Inside Mental Illness” event, presented by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, featured Akers-Campbell and other speakers who shared their personal experiences with various mental illnesses. They emphasized the importance of recognizing one’s worth regardless of their mental health.

While their stories were all different, one common theme among them was the ignorance and stigma associated with mental illnesses. Many do not realize that mental illnesses are in fact biological and hereditary, even if symptoms are not yet present in early childhood. Because symptoms are not always obvious, it is easy to think that depression, anxiety, or other disorders are something that can be managed effortlessly.

However, this is not the case. When listening to the story of someone who experiences mental illness, it becomes apparent that it can be just as inhibiting as any physical disorder.

“From the outside in, it didn’t look like anything,” Akers-Campbell said when explaining how he first discovered that he had a major depressive disorder. When someone has depression, the signs will not always be overt. They could appear to be perfectly fine at school, showing no indication of feeling unwell. But then when they are at home, they isolate themselves in their room, go long periods of time without eating, or display a lack of concentration.

Because the majority of the symptoms are not overtly recognizable, depression is often not taken as seriously as a bodily affliction, like a broken leg or having the flu. When signs are largely ambiguous, one might feel as though no one truly understands the gravity of their situation.

People with mental illnesses are often labeled as “lazy” or “pessimistic” when they should be “lively” and “motivated,” as though their attitude is something that can be changed with a few words of encouragement. But to ask that of someone with depression is like asking someone with a broken hand to write their name.

When Lea Knizek ’17 shared her background with anxiety, she noted how hopeless and insignificant she felt, and how she never told anyone about her situation until her sophomore year of college. If you are not personally experiencing a mental illness, it is hard to fully comprehend just how much it affects your life.

Society tends to brush mental illness under the rug, away from discussion. But we cannot truly understand it if we do not take the time to listen to those who have anxiety, depression, and other mental disorders. When we listen, we realize that it is wrong to use mental illness as a measure of worth or success.

Even when life is difficult, people with mental illness should not be judged on whether or not they have a stable job, financial balance, or other indicators of a “successful” life. Perhaps they are still living at home after school, or maybe they are taking a semester off. This does not mean that they are lazy, but rather that they are getting the treatment they really need. As Knizek said, “If you’re at the end of your rope, things do get better.”