Allow me to introduce you to a scenario we see in society today; a man walks into a restaurant, his appearance in disheveled and at disarray but he is otherwise clean. He is muttering to himself, and appears to be having a conversation; with himself. The man sits at a table next to a woman and her young son. The boy looks at the man and begins to talk to him like all small children do, but his mother hastily interrupts him with a sharp tongue and panic reverberating through her voice. “Billy!” She whispers, “Do not talk to that man!” “Why?” Billy inquires, his innocent curiosity shining through his eyes. “Because there is something wrong with him,” she whispers accusingly, and with all due haste grabs her things, and young Billy, and moves them all to a different table far away from the man. This is the issue I would like to discuss in my essay; the cruel stigma attached to mental health.
We have all seen it before, the man at the bus stop talking to himself, the woman at work who keeps to herself, with a bleak, hollow lifeless look to her eyes, the young child who cries every day at home and has dreams to end his life. What as a society do we do when we see these things? We turn our heads, and walk away, giving a wide berth to the individual in need. Mental health issues are numerous and plenty; everything included from Clinical depression, to Bipolar Disorder, to full blown Schizophrenia. All of these conditions, along with many others, are diseases; a sickness that cannot be helped, and cannot be controlled without the proper medication and therapy. When we see a cancer patient limping across the street, do we simply turn our heads and pretend not to notice? When a diabetic falls down in need of an insulin shot, do we just leave him on the street to die? No. We call an ambulance to get them straight to the hospital, we help the cancer patient across the street. Then why is it that the Schizophrenic at the bus stop is ignored and avoided? He has a disease, no different from Cancer or diabetes, yet we turn our heads as if not to notice. Does he not deserve the same compassion and empathy we give to others with diseases? He needs help, yet we as a society do not give it to him.
Mental health has been a taboo topic, and has a seriously sordid past. As early as fifty years ago, patients with disorders were given lobotomies, or even worse regular electric shock treatments. Little was known about the brain at this time and patients with problems were isolated and tortured with electric shock. The horrors of such atrocities committed to an already unstable mind are too much to bear thought to at present date. The generations of the past are very rigid and unaccepting of mental health, and have adopted the mentality of “just get over it”. This is why it is up to us, the generation of now to evolve to a higher level than our fathers and begin the change that is desperately needed today on this issue. The percentage of the American population suffering from mental health disorders is a staggering number, a number that cannot be continually ignored any longer, a number that grows every day as more is learned about the human brain, and more people are being diagnosed, who were never diagnosed before. It is something that is very important to me as an individual and to my family, as I am a victim of this; at age eighteen, I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder.
The news of my diagnosis was a devastating blow. How will I live with this? What will people think? How can I learn to be a functioning member of society? As news of my diagnosis spread, the whispers and the stares began. In my sorority, while we held chapter meetings, as I walked by, the girls would point and whisper, casting worrying glances my way. I could hear them say “stay away from her, she’s crazy, God only knows what she’ll do to you.” I was ostracized and outcast by the very people who swore to be my sisters and stand by me. I had friends tell me they couldn’t associate with me anymore. I could silence a room just by walking in, and split a crowd like the red sea just by walking through. I was utterly humiliated and turned aside. Through this whole ordeal I’ve learned that my sickness, like any sickness, can be treated. I have medications that I have to take every day for the rest of my life, like a diabetic with insulin, and I go to regular therapy sessions once a week. I learned I can do this, and I can survive, and I was able to overcome my disease without the help of others. Others however are not as fortunate as I, and desperately need our help to get better, their cries for help can be seen in the way their eyes appear lifeless, or the way the young child cries, or the muttered conversations the schizophrenic has to himself. These are all obvious cries for help, yet they are ignored and unheard, callously abandoned by the society that has a duty to help them. I was strong enough to overcome my disease, and I was lucky to have devoted and understanding parents supporting me every step of the way. Not everyone is so lucky. That is why the time to act is here, and now. The need for change has been long overdue. Now is the time for our generation to answer the call, and help those in need.
This issue is very close to heart, and very important to my generation. It is long past time something be done to change this, and it is very important that today’s society finally disposes of the cruel stigma attached to mental health. Those who suffer are people, just like you and me, and they deserve what every human being deserves; to be treated as equals.