We Need to Stop Stigmatizing Mental Illness

A graphic outline of a brain with blue waves coming out both sides.

Trigger warning: this post discusses mental illness and suicide.

“How come when people have mental damage, it’s always an active imagination? How come every other organ in your body can get sick and you get sympathy, except the brain?” – Ruby Wax

These words are going to be uncomfortable to write.

It speaks to the strength of the stigma in our society surrounding mental health that I – a person who experiences mental illness – feel unsettled by the idea of others reading the truth about what I face.

I have struggled with mental illness for most of my life. A symptom of my illness is having periods of depression, and for me, this usually means having suicidal thoughts and in the worst cases, attempting suicide.

One of the things I’ve struggled with is knowing that each time I feel suicidal, one of two things will most likely happen: my attempt will work, or I’ll reach out for help and lead people to believe me less and less over time. The fear that I will be labeled as attention-seeking and the desire not to be a burden sometimes makes me think twice about reaching out to family and friends.

To say it’s difficult to fight against your own mind every day would be an understatement. Thoughts become ammunition to use to convince yourself that you and everyone else would be better off if you were to die.

The thing is, I don’t want to die. I love my life very much, and have so much to be grateful for. But unfortunately, I have a chemical imbalance in my brain that works against my survival. My illness happens to be invisible but it is very, very real.

And yet, mental health is so often ignored. Society admires people who persevere through physical pain, but experiences with emotional or mental pain are often discounted.

There is so much shame attached to mental illness, and this especially difficult when shame is already something people with mental illness often carry for other reasons. What I’ve learned is that in order to survive, I must remember that I have a choice, that I shouldn’t feel shame, and that it’s always okay to need help.

To work on the prevention of suicide (especially during Suicide Prevention Month), we need to change the mindsets that encourage these feelings of shame. The fact that our own minds can work against us is a scary and uncomfortable thing to think or talk about, but it’s time to start having more candid and open conversations about mental health and suicide prevention.

Resources for those struggling with suicidal thoughts:
National Suicide Hotline: 1-800-273-8255
Suicide Prevention Resource Center
American Foundation for Suicide Foundation
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline

Ruby Wax’s TED Talk

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Courtney Cole is a college sophomore in Seattle, WA studying psychology. She began blogging in 2015 about her experiences as a young blind woman. Currently, she works at Rooted in Rights as a creative production assistant.