Being mentally ill is often seen in a negative light. You tell someone you’re depressed, and they immediately assume you’re suicidal. You tell someone you’re schizophrenic, and they assume you constantly hear voices in your head. You tell someone that you’re anxious, and they assume you’re constantly a jittery wreck. When, in reality, it’s not like that at all. That’s just the stereotypes that our society has drilled into us from a young age.
Typically, when people think about mental health, the two disorders that come up most commonly are depression and anxiety. It is true that up to 90% of the population suffer from both these disorders at some point in their lives. But I think that they often overshadow the other types of mental illness that people can develop. A list of less known disorders include:
A lot of these mental illnesses aren’t well known by those who don’t suffer with them, purely because there is such a focus on anxiety and depression. But it’s important that we make ourselves aware of these disorders, so that we can recognise the symptoms and sympathise with those who suffer. It isn’t pleasant for them, but they cannot control if they develop a mental illness or not. So, knowing that they have someone they can talk to, and someone who has bothered to educate themselves on whatever condition they have can be of great help to the mentally ill. It shows that you care enough about them to try and understand why they are like they are.
When I was eight years old, I bumped into a man who was in the middle of a conversation to himself. My mother quickly ushered me away when he tried to talk to me. She held my hand and quietly whispered “don’t speak to that man, sweetheart. He’s not right in the head.” I didn’t understand what she meant. Later, she explained to me that he was schizophrenic. Again, being eight years old, I had no idea what this meant. “People with schizophrenia talk to themselves,” she said. “When you see one, don’t make eye contact, otherwise they’ll try to rope you into their one-way conversation as well.” From then on, that was the stereotype I held with the term ‘schizophrenic.’
When I was sixteen, I started a Psychology course at college. I made a new friend on the first day and it was what you would class as an ‘ordinary’ friendship. It wasn’t weird or forced. One day, not long into the course, our teacher started talking to us about schizophrenia. My friend turned around to me and said “oh man, I’m gonna be a pro at this topic!” I stared at her, utterly confused. She sensed this, and then added “did I not tell you, I’m a schizophrenic?” I had to prevent my mouth from dropping. Because of the stereotype I had been conditioned to believe all those years ago, I had never imagined meeting a schizophrenic who acted like the average person did. I felt awful that I held such a prejudice view beforehand, and that day really taught me that you should never judge a book by its cover, as clichéd as it sounds. How other people condition you to believe what the symptoms of a mental illness are, isn’t necessarily the truth. This is why it is so important that you educate yourself on the symptoms of mental illnesses so that you can fight the prejudice stereotypes that society tries to make up in order to alienate the mentally ill population. Not everyone represents the stereotypical ‘signs.’ Sometimes, it is completely invisible. We need to stop this alienation. Mentally ill people are still people. Just like you can’t help what happens in your life, they can’t either. They didn’t choose to be this way. It’s just who they are.
Having a mental illness is not a weakness. You are incredibly strong for constantly being at war with yourself but still managing to go about your daily life. People may stare. Let them. People may judge. Let them. You are a human, just like they are. And you are valid. Don’t let anybody take that away from you.
Teenagers With Experience is an organisation created to provide teenagers with a platform to share and help others from their own experiences while also educating others on different topics. We aim to provide a safe space to all teenagers around the world and support others. You can contact us via email, social media or our contact form found on our home page.