March 11, 2015


Daniel Paese


The sinking feeling is constant. It’s been weeks since you have felt like yourself, escaping crowded rooms to cry alone before a tear is noticed has become routine. The fear of judgement holds you back. People wouldn’t look at you the same if they knew, you would be an artifact on display. This image of what could be has grown to be so big that you suffer in silence.

The fear controls you. The person you used to be was lost somewhere between forced smiles and fake laughter. You don’t want to admit it, but holding it in has made you feel worse.

It needs to be understood that when someone is stigmatized, it means they are treated as a disgrace. Set apart from others because of a trait or characteristic. Someone with mental health problems can sometimes be viewed as a personification of their diagnosis: as “crazy” or “weak.”

According to a study by the National Mental Health Association, 54 percent of Americans believe depression is a personal weakness. According to PsychCentral, some of these damaging stereotypes include misconceptions of increased violence and being unpredictable. Schools often preach tolerance, but when it comes to issues such as mental illness, sometimes those lessons go out the window because the topic is alien.

As a result, the people struggling feel like they have something to hide or be ashamed of. It’s seen as their fault, not an actual sickness but instead, a problem that if the person wanted to fix, they could. If someone has a chronic disease, like diabetes, they aren’t questioned, but mental illness is sometimes dismissed or scrutinized. Twelve percent of KHS students believe mental illness isn’t a real disease. It sometimes isn’t treated like one even though, according to the CDC, suicide is one of the top five leading causes of death for teenagers in America. These people die of hopelessness, loneliness and depression. But not weakness.
Their deaths are avoidable, but suicide can happen because of a fear to come forward and ask for help. Unfortunately, that fear is a reflection of our society as a whole. Our inability to see it as something more than an imaginary problem creates a barrier to the diagnosis and treatment needed.

I have dealt with it. I know the feeling of debating with myself over whether it’s worth asking for help. Over what my parents would think of me. My friends. Sister. Even the counselors. Questioning whether I needed the help or if I just wanted attention.

Every time the words almost escaped my mouth, they would get caught in my throat. Mental illness is something that happens to someone else, not you. There was a fear that if I asked for help, I would become the label. I would be seen as nothing more then “depressed.”

Most people are affected by mental illness, whether it be indirectly or directly. At KHS, 23 percent of students (72/312) report they have suffered from a mental illness and 84 percent (263/314) report they know someone who has or is still suffering. With something so prevalent, an initial step to embrace it should be taken. As a friend or family member of someone struggling, sometimes the best thing you can do is listen without judgement. The National Alliance on Mental Health reports each year only about 20 percent of children suffering from a mental disease will seek help.

This year especially, social media has been helping to shine a light on what mental health actually is with trending Twitter hashtags like #EndTheStigma and #BellLetsTalk. Both of these encourage people who have struggled to share their stories and those who haven’t to read their stories, to try to teach the public that these are real problems that need help. Not something to discriminate against and to advocate being receptive as opposed to dismissive. People with mental illness are already struggling with their disease, so they don’t need stereotypes and prejudice on top of that.

I struggled for years before I came forward. I feel it’s important to share this because I never talked about grappling with my mental health. There are many people like me and the only way for someone to feel comfortable enough to ask for help is through a system of open conversation.

KHS offers amazing resources, particularly the counselors. Any of them would be willing to talk. They are there to help you and are a completely trustworthy, unbiased source to go to, label free. They also have the ability of putting you in contact with a professional, if need be. Help extends beyond school, to your family members and friends: your main support network. Though they most likely aren’t professionals it can help to know you aren’t alone. Being able to talk free of judgement is the first step to #EndTheStigma.

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