Posted by Amber Charette
Mental health is a topic of interest that not only fascinates me, but that affects me on a personal level. For the past several years, I've been struggling with severe anxiety and depression. My illnesses began sometime in high school, but it wasn't until my junior year of college that I really started to try and make things better for myself. Since then, I've experienced enormous ups and downs, and have at times questioned my ability to continue fighting these illnesses. Recently, with the help of medication and therapy, I have begun to make great strides in my coping ability. I'm not going to say that I'm in the clear, but I can tell that what I'm doing are the right things for me and that as long as I continue doing them I will become increasingly stronger.
My name is Amber Charette, and I am a senior exercise science major here at Skidmore. I wanted to share a small piece of my story to you all because I would like nothing more than to help open people's eyes to the realities of mental illness. The stigma that is present on mental illness is real, and it is not only hurtful to those affected by mental illness but also detrimental to their overall wellbeing. How is someone going to ask for help if society does not accept people being ill in this way in the first place?
Most of you who are reading this article probably don't fall into this stigmatizing group. But that doesn't mean there aren't people out there who do. I can recall several instances where people have ridiculed, bullied, and tormented people because of their mental illness. Not only this, but I have also witnessed such stigmas via popular social networks such as Facebook, Myspace, and Tumblr. One of the latest stigmatizing experiences I came across was a Facebook post shared by a group I am a member of. While I couldn't find the exact post (as it was shared back in September), I did find an article that highlights the gist of it very well:
http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2013/09/26/asdas-mental-patient-fancydress_n_3993125.html. While I encourage all who are reading this article to take a peek at this link, I understand the realities of the last few weeks of the semester very well. Thus, I'll give a brief synopsis of the whole situation. Basically, two companies, Asda (which is owned by Wal-Mart) and Tesco were selling "mental patient" and "psycho ward" Halloween costumes in England. One look at the costumes, and viewers became instantly outraged. And while I was pleased with the quick backlash from viewers, I was nonetheless disgusted by the fact that some people, somewhere, thought it was acceptable to sell such costumes.
To some, I may seem like I was exaggerating my frustration at this post, but I don't think I was. As someone who has been a patient in a mental health unit multiple times because of my illnesses, I was personally offended and hurt by what those companies did. But what bothered me most was the message that was being sent to consumers: which was that mental health patients and people with mental illness in general are all violent, scary, and insane.First, I can guarantee you all that while I admit to being quirky and weird at times, I am certainly not crazy. I'm a normal college student, who happens to struggle with anxiety and depression. Second, notice I said that I struggle with anxiety and depression. I do not consider myself to be "an anxious and depressed" person. Rather, I am a person with anxiety and depression. While the change is subtle, the meanings differ enormously: I am first and foremost a person, and thus, using what is known as 'people-first' language is essential.
I do not define myself by my mental illnesses, and I think it is time that society realizes and respects that mental illnesses are just that - illnesses. I read another post on Facebook recently that said something like this: "You wouldn't tell someone with diabetes to just snap out of it." Whether psychological or physical, illnesses should be treated equally.
As an endnote, my struggles with mental illness have helped to show me what I am passionate about doing in my future. I hope to become a social worker in an inpatient mental health unit one day, so I can help individuals cope with and eventually overcome their illnesses too. Sometimes, just sometimes, your weaknesses can become your strengths.