By Nicholas Conley | October 10, 2018 | 3 Minute Read
People don’t easily fit into predetermined boxes—reality is more complex. When trauma occurs to someone, the effects can last a lifetime. Unfortunately, throughout history, those living with mental illnesses have not received the best care. Even today, unpacking the numerous stereotypes, judgments, and prejudices that society has attached to those who struggle with mental illness isn’t easy. Sadly, this is especially true for communities of color and members of the LGBTQ community.
In 1992, the World Federation for Mental Health stepped up to the plate by declaring October 10th as World Mental Health Day. This day aims to raise awareness for mental health issues impacting the world today by providing better understanding and resources for those who need help.
What makes World Mental Health Day important is its capacity to act as a lightning bolt to the public consciousness. It’s a time where, for at least one day, the entire world can reexamine dated views on mental illness, learn the truth about its prevalence, get involved with organizations that can help, and better understand the root causes.
Where Society Fails
“What’s wrong with you? Pull yourself together.”
“You aren’t trying hard enough.”
These are the sorts of condemnations that people with mental illness hear every day—and these comments demonstrate how badly misunderstood mental illness really is. In a culture that places such a high value on personal responsibility, those living with mental illness are stigmatized and often written away as failures. This occurs despite the fact that their conditions generally have more to do with socioeconomic factors and trauma, rather than their own decisions. This false representation of mental illness that’s caused by a lack of personal responsibility has persisted for centuries, and while it’s easy to point a finger at how horribly past generations have treated mental illness, the picture is hardly rosy today. The way people talk about mental illness has only started to turn around in the last few decades, but true acceptance is still far away.
Even now, people with mental illnesses are seen as outliers, “others,” or non-functioning. However, statistics prove how widespread these conditions really are; according to the World Health Organization (WHO), an estimated one out of four adults will experience mental or neurological disorders at some point in their lives, and over 450 million people currently live with such conditions. Despite these numbers, almost half of the world’s countries have no official mental health policy. Around two-thirds of those with mental illness never seek help, largely due to stigmatization.
Rosalyn Campbell, an assistant professor at the University of Georgia’s School of Social Work, spoke about some of the reasons this is especially true for black Americans. The three main factors she cited were an unwillingness to be stigmatized in another category beyond their race, misperceptions or a lack of knowledge about mental health issues, and a generalized idea that, for many black Americans, depression is not seen as an illness but rather a fact of life.
New England Joins the Cause
Here in New England, one of the most prominent advocates for this cause is the Massachusetts Association for Mental Health (MAMH). First instituted in 1913, MAMH was part of an international movement to improve the horrendous conditions suffered by those in psychiatric hospitals. Since then, MAMH has dedicated its resources to causes like affordable housing, better treatments, and parity — the necessity for those with mental illness to receive the same insurance benefits as those with physical ailments. To accomplish their goals, they work together with organizations like the Department of Mental Health, Samaritans, and more.
Through these efforts and partnerships, MAMH hopes to someday create a Massachusetts where all residents have full access to the many resources that every person deserves. There’s still a lot of work to do, but by raising awareness, speaking up, and starting conversations now, hopefully, we can move one step closer to a better future.
If you’re wondering how to get assistance for someone with mental illnesses, call the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration’s national helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).