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Why is mental illness regarded taboo compared with physical illness?

At the age of twenty-two, after four years of my first identified episode of depression, I sit here with the realisation that although I haven’t sank, I have merely been bobbing along through life – similar to a rubber duck on water. I’ve been staying afloat, and on the surface I am fine. But like the water in a storm, things can quickly change with an unexpected trigger. Negative thought patterns occur, feelings blur and in consequence emotions become uncontrollable. It is the first time since I was nineteen that I have gained clarity on my recovery journey so far; I have been using short term mechanisms to ‘cope’ when an episode occurs, but by no means have I found a long term ‘fix’ (if you can call it that?!).

Upon reflection I believe the delayed recognition of my depression and anxiety being as present, as it was four years ago in my everyday life, is due to the fact that I, myself, alongside many others, is still embarrassed to admit wholly, that I suffer from a Mental Health illness. I’ve tried to find ways of coping with my mental health through ‘acceptable’ ways. Some of which were, low levels of medication of Citalopram, 10mg. I ‘rationalised’ and told myself that I was taking this medication due to physical imbalance in the brain chemical of serotonin. I wasn’t mad. I used self help books, such as Mark Hills, ‘Finding peace in a frantic world’. I ‘rationalised’ and told myself everyone needs to find a little peace in such a ‘frantic’ and fast paced world we live in. I wasn’t mad.

I was offered a course of CBT (Cognitive behavioural therapy), but declined, as I felt uncomfortable and almost ashamed to converse with complete strangers on a regular basis, and openly discuss all my inner struggles, emotions and anxieties. I didn’t want my anxieties/emotions to be spoken about so openly, allowing for judgement, I didn’t want to be labelled as mad.

I recognise now, that I was right, that I shouldn’t have been labelled as mad, because I wasn’t and I am not mad, but I have and still continue to suffer with a ‘Mental Illness’.

Its an illness that has been differentiated from a physical one, such as heart disease, epilepsy and asthma. Mental illness has a cemented stigma attached to it within society. It’s a stigma that has prevented open talk, education, and aid. The attitudes within our society put physical illness above a mental illness; it’s seen as more acceptable, it gains more support, sympathy and sensitivity from a variety of people. But most of all it’s an illness that allows for the tools of recovery, with easily accessible support and treatments, at a faster and higher rate.

It’s a common opinion that if your illness is physical and in some cases visible then it is real and an unfortunate but a real and merited situation. However, with mental illness, due to the lack of understanding or the inability to ‘rationalise’ the illness without visible facts, it often creates a label of ‘abnormality’ of a person, simply due to ignorance. So, why if our illness occurs in mind is it regarded as somewhat of a taboo to discuss and vocalise, whatever the aim of conversation? Is it simply due to people’s perception of a physical illness being real and a mental illness not? Or is it due to the historic representation of the ‘mentally insane’? It’s a question that can never be answered fully, but I, personally, can only assume that the miseducation of the past and present, has attached a label of abnormality to the illness.

With an ‘abnormal’ connotation attached to any action, thought, or emotion, the human psyche innately begins to feel, shame, embarrassment and guilt. It’s a connotation that creates isolation for many people within society, preventing the ability to gain help, speak out and eventually make progress in their personal recovery. We’ve labelled and segregated people in need, we’ve made people feel that it’s abnormal to be ill, we’ve made people feel ashamed to be the person they are. We’ve created demoralising and discriminatory attitudes towards a person in need, solely due to where the illness had a occurred in the body, an illness that has developed involuntarily. We need to educate ourselves and understand that it doesn’t matter where biologically in the body an illness occurs, the effects on the soul are just as detrimental and damaging.

Throughout my own personal journey, I have held the negative attitudes and thoughts, I have inadvertently discriminated against my own mental illness. But, I have realised the damaging effects this has and can have on myself. I have realised I am a human, with thoughts, feeling and emotions, I’m not a robot. I have an illness, I am not the illness. And as with any illness, it is simply a glitch, a bump in the road, the wind in a storm. And as with any obstacle, you can overcome it, with the right tools, support and actions.

My mental health does not define me as a human, nor does it define you – it’s simply one part of us, as an ordinary individual.

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