Removing the stigma of mental illness

With the passing of Robin Williams, the important topics of mental illness and addictions have been propelled to the forefront in social media, newspapers and other media sources. As someone working in the field of mental health, I feel the need to share some of my thoughts on the issue.

Mental illness, including addiction, is not a choice. Someone does not choose to feel depressed, to have a panic attack, or to become an addict. These problems are diseases. Diseases that can be treated, but that many people hide from others because of the stigma attached. People feel like their mental illness and their emotional struggles are weaknesses, so instead of seeking support, they keep silent about it, often self-medicating. This is how people, who could have had access to so many resources, end up in horrible places that lead to decisions like suicide.

As a society, we need to recognize that mental illness and addiction are diseases and while the person doesn’t have a choice in whether they will have these diseases or not, they do have a choice in how they handle their disease. But they need our support in learning how to handle it. That’s part of my job and the job of others in the mental health field, but it is also the job of the rest of society to remove the stigma and mislabeling of mental illness and to show more kindness, compassion, empathy, support and understanding to our family, friends, neighbors and fellow humans.

Even for those without mental illness, know that it is okay to feel sad and to have bad days. Somehow our society has made it so that feeling sad, stressed, upset etc are seen as bad emotions, things we shouldn’t feel. But the reality is these things are part of life, they are part of the process of finding balance. It is normal and okay to have down days and bad moments and it is absolutely okay to reach out for support from friends, family and professionals.

We are here for you.

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