Step it up America: A conversation about mental illness

February 2, 2018

When rapper Logic first released his song titled “1-800-273-8255,” the number to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, traffic to the hotline’s website and social media accounts spiked immediately. It was “the most important song I’ve ever wrote,” Logic tweeted, adding statistics stating the Lifeline’s website traffic increased by 17 percent in May 2017 and over 100% on April 28, 2017, the day the song came out. Logic tweeted that his song helped people, with depression and other mental illnesses, feel empowered to ask for help.

Mental illness is heavily stigmatized in our society. Most people with mental illnesses are reluctant to talk about their illness because of this stigma, choosing instead to keep their illness bottled up. It should not have to be this way, but societal norms dictate we must be mentally healthy at all times.

As an Asian American, I am uniquely affected by the stigma surrounding mental illness. In some Asian cultures, stigma surrounding mental illness stems from a belief that mental illness demonstrates or exposes the weaknesses of an individual’s character. Mental illness is a flaw, and if one has a flaw that can be easily exposed, the individual is considered unacceptable and ostracized. Many people, in many of these cultures, believe mental illness is a punishment passed down from their ancestors. Growing up in a culture like this, I never knew the impact mental illness had on my classmates and their families, because it was never talked about at home.

It was not until well into my high school career that I learned about mental illness during a lesson in my health class. The class was my first real exposure to issues regarding mental illness, and without it, the other students and I might never have learned that no one should have to be ashamed of having a mental illness.

Given the commonness of mental illness, why is this stigma so intense? Even mentally healthy people might experience some acute symptoms. Mentally healthy people should be able to empathize with mentally ill people on one level or another.

Additionally, most people are close to someone with a mental illness. Coming to the aids of our friends should be our priority, but instead many of us stand back as unhelpful bystanders. This lack of support is because we are too intimidated by the stigma and seriousness of mental illness.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), one in four people deal with some type of mental illness during their lifetime. Dr. Gro Harlem Brundtland, Director-General of the WHO says “mental illness is not a personal failure. In fact, if there is failure, it is to be found in the way we have responded to people with mental and brain disorders.” We as a society should not be ashamed to admit mental health awareness needs a big push.

We can accomplish this by improving mental health education in schools. School-aged youths are faced with ever-increasing academic expectations that can expose them to mental illness at a young age. These young people deserve to be educated on mental illness, and as they grow up, they can put their education to use by teaching their own children and peers. Better education and understanding will one day remove our society’s stigma.

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