Everywhere we go, we hear people telling us “smile more”, “put your chin up”, “don’t be dramatic”, and so on. This constant stream of commands, while often coming from a good place, can often undermine the feelings of those of us struggling with mental health issues. No one argues with us when we go to the doctor for an annual physical check up, so why is it so discouraged in our society to check up on our mental health and well-being? Read on to hear Miriam’s thoughts on mental health stigma.
ERASING THE STIGMA
By Miriam Medina
Often you go to the doctor for a physical complication you have, but how often do you seek help when you have a concern about your mental state? Often, we brush mental health to the side, we ignore it in ourselves, in our families, and in our society. For some cultures, mental health is a silenced topic, one that is not attended to. The illnesses of depression and anxiety, among others, are not talked about. This is due to lack of conversation and knowledge around its characteristics and treatments, as well as the shame or embarrassment of feeling such emotions within ourselves. Considering that we live in a society, in which health insurance has become a requirement, it is troublesome that mental health plays such a small role and is not as prioritized as part of bodily health.
This blog is specifically dedicated to reducing the stigma around mental health illnesses. Thinking about the picture above, just imagine a child jumping rope with friends from the neighborhood. Everybody is singing the ABC chants anticipating what letter he will land on to see what letter his crush’s name starts with. As he jumps rhythmically to the chant, the sudden quickening of the pace causes him to trip on the jump rope and land on his arm. A sudden pain causes him to cry out in anguish, and soon enough he is rushed to the hospital with urgency, for it is possible that he has broken his arm. Concerns surrounding physical pain are immediately attended to—a stomachache, a rolled ankle, a cold are treated one way or another. However, racing thoughts about ones inefficiency or self-worth or a lingering melancholic mood are not taken care of quickly. They are brushed to the side with a “you’re just having a bad day” or a “don’t be silly you’re fine”. Through these attempts at being positive and “supportive” towards a friend in trouble, the silencing of mental health continues.
Some of the stigma around mental health trails back to the shaming and disapproval of sadness. Men are taught not to cry, for it makes them “look weak”; women are stereotyped as being too emotional and believed to “exaggerate their sadness.” However, the mainstream belief that sadness and crying are expressions of weakness, should be broken, because in reality crying is a form of healing. Crying is a physical expression that releases one’s grief, frustrations, and stress, but on top of that it expresses joy and relief. Crying is an authentic and GOOD expression of one’s state of mind. Therefore, through this mainstream belief individuals are conditioned to bottle such emotions, which is not healthy at all. So, regardless of who you are, cry because you are sad; cry because you are frustrated; cry because you are stressed; cry because you are worried; cry because you feel an emotion so strongly that it needs to be expressed. If we can move towards accepting crying as a form of healing, we will be one step closer towards destigmatizing mental health.