Personal Column: Stop cultivating mental disorder stigmas

Davion Smith, Staff Writer

Davion Smith, Staff Writer

By Davion Smith, Staff Writer

I slowly trenched toward the back of the bus and flopped down into an empty seat. I knew I was in for a long bus ride since I had forgotten my headphones. As I laid in the seat, I heard the loud outburst of a group of boys a few seats ahead of me. “If my son was to have Tourette’s and to curse in public I’d tell him to shut up!” exclaimed a boy confidently. I sunk down even further into my seat, the pit of my stomach churning. “You can’t do that,” exclaimed another. “They’re a little slow,” he said, and he seemed to think that he was being the bigger person by making the derogatory objection. They went further joking about neurological and mental disorders such as Obsessive Compulsive Disorder and Attention Deficit. “One of them could be on the bus,” murmured a boy. Little did they know “one of them” was just a few seats behind.

When you’re diagnosed with any mental disorder, you’re forever branded with a stigma. These stereotypes further offend and isolate you from a community you once knew as home before your diagnosis. These stereotypes include being violent, having a weak moral character and having nothing to contribute to society. These stigmas and stereotypes are constantly portrayed on television as comedy. Having a tic disorder anxiety and OCD I know the feelings too well. I feel devalued, ignored, while at the same time being the media’s new obsession. My intelligence is underestimated, even though there is no studies to suggest prove this.

When you have  a mental illness people are often judging you by their standards and their perimeters of “normal,” despite the fact normality itself is constantly changing its parameters. For instance it’s easy for someone to associate the problems faced with Attention Deficit Disorder with that of someone being “lazy,” or someone struggling with depression is simply “unmotivated.” We paint people with a wide brush dipped in negativity refusing to be attentive to the fine details. This happens indefinitely in school system and in the workforce. Sure, mental disorders can make it harder in the school and work, but in no way does it reduce mental capabilities, or deter the drive to succeed. These are facts that need to be considered by students and teachers alike so that we can start to bridge the gap between the “normal” and the mentally ill.

Despite the horrific problems faced by many of those with a mental disorder it has become a trend to claim or describe situations and “normal” people by disorders. It is sadly too common for someone to say they are OCD because they like for things to be neat, or to say they are depressed when they feel sad.  Our understanding of the severity of these disorders has been blurred because of the mislabeling of odd habits and bad moods. While only 2.2 to 2.3 percent are diagnosed with obsessive compulsive disorder, a larger part of the population claims the disorder. Society uses them to describe ourselves and situations so lightly. These disorders can be just as dangerous as many other illnesses and should be treated as such. It is insensitive to those who are truly struggling. You wouldn’t say you had cancer simply because you are sick. If you did, people would surely be offended. Why isn’t the same true for equally serious and crippling mental disorders? We must speak up for those affected.

Mental illnesses are just that. Illnesses. Not a badge that those affected can take on and off when convenient. They are also not a weakness. We are not broken. We simply have a different obstacle than some of the world. Everybody in this world has their own personal obstacles to overcome – whether it be scholarly/professionally, personally, emotionally, or mentally – and this being the case we should not look to down on those whose obstacle is different from ours. Many people feel that their disorder is a much as a part of them as their personality. That have grown to learn that their illness is what makes them unique, because it is what allows them to see the world very differently. The journey that they have went through has made them strong. One should never be ashamed of our disorders, as if it were a flaw. It was how they were born, and it doesn’t make them less of a person just as race, sexual orientation or religion doesn’t.

I am not a mental illness. I am not the stigma that comes along with it. I have a mental illness. It does not have me.