Significant movements have been implemented to educate youth and adults alike about the severity of psychological disorders. I believe the progress that has been made, while commendable, has an unfortunate negative side effect that many are unaware of. The deeply rooted stigma, which has been around since the initial realization of the existence of mental illnesses, now remains more hidden. As a result, the stigmas can be incredibly harmful. Although blunt discrimination against the mentally ill has become recognized more universally as unacceptable (though still not entirely), the lack of education is still present.
My personal belief is that mental illnesses should be apart of a mandatory discussion within middle schools. This way the impressionable youth can understand the appropriate language to use when discussing the topic and be encouraged to talk openly and respectfully about mental illness. Beginning this discussion allows children to understand how to behave towards the mentally ill, to recognize symptoms they have developed themselves, and to not be ashamed to seek help starting at an early age.
A strong fear of the unknown is common among all humans, which is why it is important for people to be educated on mental illness. Education can help prevent the mentally ill from being villianized, feared, and isolated. As long as the issue is still dismissed by educators and the public, the stigma will continue to live on. Deeply embedded in our society is a type of accepted incorrect use of mental health terms, (“She’s so moody, I swear she’s bipolar”), constantly reinforced stereotypes, and vilification within the media.
Recently, an upcoming thriller, “Split” by director M. Night Shyamalan, has been heavily advertised. The advertisements feature a mentally ill man abducts three young girls and holds them captive. This is an impressionable representation of dissociative identity disorder (DID), a disorder that is already highly stigmatized. It is even commonly debated whether DID is a valid mental disorder at all.
When DID was brought up in my high school psychology class, which is a place where people’s lack of previous education on mental health becomes very apparent, it was the first time many students had even heard of the disorder. This means that the villain in this film, for many people, will be the first and only representation they have seen of someone suffering from DID. The man in “Split” is a character whose purpose is to scare the audience. “Split” is one of many films that represents the mentally ill as evil and dangerous people. These inaccurate fictional accounts that are being portrayed in the media are many people’s only source of education on mental illness.
Although it may look as though we have made alot of progress, through recognizing more illnesses in psychiatric facilities and many celebrities coming forward about their own struggles, there is still so much more progress that needs to be made in our own communities, and it starts with you. You could be stigmatizing mental illness without even realizing it. You could potentially be isolating your mentally ill peers by using ableist language, which is slurs and insults that discriminate against mental and physical illnesses. You may also find yourself considering a single story about mental illness, which was meant for entertainment, as factual information about psychological disorders. You can very well be fearing those who have illnesses that you have yet to learn about. Yes, I assure you that you do know someone who has dealt with, or is dealing with, a mental illness.
If you learn about a specific mental illness through an educator, a reliable medical source, a mentally ill peer, or your personal experience, be sure to use your education to correct those who are actively stigmatizing mental illness. By changing one person’s view, you could be potentially helping several others.