Mental illness is real and it it just as difficult as other illnesses
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In honor of this year's theme, 'Mental Health Matters' for the International Youth Day on August 12 2014; I decided to speak out about this topic that is so dear to my heart. I think that it's time indeed to end mental health stigma.
In Hong Kong alone, 1 in 3 people are suffering from some sort of mental disorder according to a SCMP (a local newspaper) article dated 2012. Around 200,000 people in Hong Kong are estimated to have a severe mental illness and suicide rates gas become the leading cause of death among youth aged 15 to 24 according to Centre for Suicide Research and Prevention. Based on these statistics alone, you can conclude one thing: Mental illness is real.
But the stigma continues. A lot of people think that mental illness is something that people who deal with it just to exaggerate. For instance, take depression as an example, while I admit that anyone can feel sad or lonely, I want to correct the misconception: depression is not about feeling sad all the time, depression is the suppression of feelings of sadness, anger or even happiness that causes people to feel 'down'. Merely having a bad day or feeling lonely does not automatically make someone depressed. So many of us, put depression on our heads like we actually understand its core. Even people who actually suffer from it doesn't understand it wholeheartedly.
So many people see people who suffer from mental illness as 'insane', 'attention-seeker' or 'weak'. But to me, these people are fighters and warriors. Do you know what's it like to have a battle with your own mind and still manage to face and survive the world? Do you know what's it like to have voices in your head and you can't even tell what's real or not? How about this living thing inside of you telling you you don't deserve anything? Or maybe what's it like to keep being reminded of a tragic incident in your past that keeps playing over and over again? What about instances of happiness and then sudden downhill feelings of anger? Or being labelled by people because they don't understand your battle? And the worst, basically just existing and not living?
You'll never know that classmate of yours who always laughs is actually contemplating whether to kill herself or not every night, or that workmate of yours is actually hiding in the bathroom between breaks to keep herself together or maybe that student of yours is actually crumbling from all the pressure to be 'perfect'. Sometimes, these people don't even know who they are anymore. Not everyone who doesn't act like the stereotypical 'depressed' means that they are not. Actually, those who don't act like it or talk about it are the most likely fighters.
But do not see these people as weak. They have a war within themselves, a war that cannot even be touched yet they are fighting. Don't see people who commit suicide as selfish. In the first place, they wouldn't commit such acts if they didn't feel that they were alone. It's true that understanding someone with a mental illness is a difficult task and it's common to say, 'You don't understand' but remember these people didn't choose to be like that. You cannot say that happiness is a choice because who wants to spend every minute of their life hating that they're alive? One shouldn't romanticized mental illness just to put a label in to their 'bad day'. You are struggling with something as much as person next to you, don't compare whose life is better or worst.
Treatments for mental illness is not as widespread as those physical illness. And it saddens me. Treatment is difficult to find, it's slow, it can come back and it's expensive. Stigma continues. Social stigma has caused people to look down on those with mental illness and it becomes a chain reaction where perceived stigma happens to the victims and treatment and recover is prolonged.
What can be done?
- First is to understand. All these misconceptions are everywhere. Understand the core. Sadness alone is not depression. Suicidal idealization is not attention-seeking. PSTD is not being to caught up in the past. Schizophrenia is not insanity. Yes, it's in our head. Literally. Just because you can't touch it, see it or smell it doesn't mean it's not real. All of these are real battles that people go through. Don't wait for them to wither in front of you before you believe it's true.
- Second is to make these people feel that they are not alone. So they can open up and speak out and ask for help.
- And third is to respect what they are going through. They are not easy people to deal with but it is a struggle when your own mind is your enemy. People who suffer from mental illness learn to embrace their battle so they can get through it each day after all, there is no way out of the mind.
The fact that this year's theme is mental health shows the realness of the situation among the youth. Let's end mental health stigma not only for the youth but for every warrior that have fought, are fighting and will be fighting mental illness. These people are trying to find themselves, let's help them look for themselves so they can find the road to recovery.