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You would never tell someone to get over a fractured bone. You would never tell someone who is battling cancer that they are faking it. You would never tell someone who is paralyzed in both legs to walk because it’s all in their mind. You would never tell any of these people this because they didn’t bring it on themselves. We live in a society where mental illness is overlooked by physical pain. Even though it is just as real but not as visible. We live in a world where stigma costs lives. This stigma is everywhere. It’s in our actions, words and even on the TV screen. Have you ever related to a character on a TV show? You’ve probably related over Carol crying over her boyfriend who broke up with her over text or Jimmy being really angry over his sister eating the last cookie. This may give you ideas of what mental illness may feel like but not what it truly is.
Mental illness contains biological factors from an individual’s own genetic makeup which can contribute to the risk of developing a mental illness. Now let me tell you this, I can guarantee you that at least one person you know experiences a mental illness. A brother, a father, a neighbor a solider, a child. And I can assure you that at least one of these people have not seeked help due to stigmatization. We have been taught that mental illness should be kept in the shadows. We have been taught that if we express how we feel we are weak. Not only that, we have been taught that people with mental disorders are seen upon one light. Depressed, crazy, mental, that girl is so retarded. Well that girl, and all the rest of us battling with illness are so much more than a diagnosis. So much more than the pills prescribed by the doctor, so much more than the voices, the heavy breathing. And I tell you this, ‘people don’t die from suicide, they die from sadness’ it’s not a commitment to take your own life. It’s being mentally unwell. It’s being sick. It’s not wanting to get out of bed. It’s not even wanting to shower. It’s not wanting to care.
Don’t you think it’s sad that people feel so worthless that they result in thoughts of ending their own life? Approximately 65,300 Australians attempted suicide in the past year. And the number keeps rising. How many more lives will be taken? How many more families have to be dismantled due to this silent killer? It is time for us to be the change, to break down this shameful wall. We know the biological makeup of the mind, we know that there are many factors that influence someone’s mental state. It’s not a form of madness, karma or the devil.
Mental disorders are real and are impacted by genetics and life experiences. It’s not something that can be repaired over time. It’s with us every day. It changes the way we view the world. To make matters worse, all over the world, in so called ‘developed’ countries that people fighting a mental illness are being frowned upon by the health care system. What’s that saying again, ‘if you need help you receive help’ was wrong. Because from my understanding, if you have a cut or a toothache you are held by the hand, whilst when you suffer from a serve depression or anxiety, people run the other way. It’s ironic isn’t it, that society is all for freedom of speech but is also the one that silences people when it comes to mental illness. We all need to see change. Imagine the amount of lives we could save through conversation about this issue. How many more people won’t feel neglected, shame or doubt. How many more people won’t have to overhear someone saying, ‘just kill myself’ over a spilt coffee on their white blouse, how many more people won’t have to hear, ‘oh I am so OCD about those tables.’ We need to stop glamorizing mental health. It’s not ‘fashionable,’ ‘cool’ or being ‘special.’ It’s a destructive and complex thing that one battles with every day. In our society, it has become an honor, but also an excuse for everything. “sorry mum, I can’t clean the bathroom. I have anxiety” “No dad, I can’t take the bin out, I’m depressed.” But do you know what it really feels like? To feel heavy. To carry a burden around everywhere you go, even though you don’t want to. Do you know what it feels like to be stuck between what ifs and self-doubt? No, you probably don’t. Even though, mental illness is a complex thing, it is something that needs to be addressed and understood by society. I need you to understand that anyone can experience a mental illness. Regardless of social status, ethnicity, race or gender. And these people are being denied treatment, care, love and support due to this shameful killer called stigma. And you may wonder, if mental illness is such a predominant issue, why do schools not educate students on how to cope with it?
Society’s stigma towards mental illness has prevented awareness being taught in schools which heightens the ideas that mental illness is something that should not be spoken about. I believe local governments need to become proactive in ending stigma towards mental illness. Alongside this, public schools need to make mental illness being talked about in a classroom compulsory. Considering exercise and nutrition is so broadly covered, is it asking too much for in depth conversation on how to cope with a mental illness, where to seek help and ways to improve someone’s mental state? Education ends the cycle of stigma and I have hope that we can all transform opinions of mental illness from stigma to acceptance. To conclude this, I ask everyone to do one simple thing. And that is to be nice to people. You never know what someone is going through.
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