Zeenat Afzal: Stigmatisation of Mental Illness: We’re Not Bad People

Everyone has mental health, but mental illness affects 1 in 4 people every year. Due to the negative stigmas around metal illnesses, people’s attitudes have resulted in the demonization and isolation of those that are struggling with their mental health. The embarrassment that stems from these stigmas prevents people from reaching out for the right kind of help. We need to change this.

You don’t need a psychology degree to understand mental illness. We’ve got the internet: educate yourself. It might feel alien because it doesn’t affect you, but you’d be surprised – with so many people affected, it’s never far away. In order to progress, we need to educate ourselves on mental illness, and its causes and symptoms. By understanding that, we will be able to address ‘cr*zy’ behaviour as an actual symptom and be able to help out the person who is suffering.

One key tip is to understand that the friend, sibling or co-worker suffering with a mental illness is, first and foremost, a human being. Their mental health affects their daily life and those close to them. Despite these disruptions, a lot of those that are suffering with mental illness are able to function pretty well to the public eye. However, this isn’t always true. A lot of the time, the fear of being ‘found out’ is overwhelming. These fears develop from being called ‘attention seekers’ or ‘ps*chos’. For many people, these aren’t just words. They have weight and can hurt, so be careful when you speak. Let people know that you’re there for them and that support is not far away.

As a person of South Asian-descent, it was difficult to explain how I was feeling without being made to feel shame or isolation. Often, the causes for certain mental illnesses in South Asian families, such as PTSD, are dismissed – especially when they involve another member of the family. (It is common for South Asian families to prioritise the defence of their ‘family name’ above addressing the issues faced by their child.) This can cause a lot of repression and can later develop into severe depersonalisation.. However, it must be stated that not everyone shares this experience; I am here referring primarily to the way in which PTSD has affected me. Different people have different illnesses, and even people with the same illness can experience different symptoms. So, listen to those that need help and support them in a way that’ll benefit their health.

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Let’s face it, as helpful as it is, having your diagnosis go public can affect a lot of your relationships. As people struggling with an illness, we’re often beating ourselves up about how we react to things, and how we feel about things, but it’s okay. Having a sick brain doesn’t make you a bad person, and wanting to talk about it doesn’t make you an attention seeker.

You have every right to be as happy and as content as everyone else.

So take a breath, and forgive yourself for the years that mental illness took from you, but remember the importance of acknowledging your own behaviour and communicating with those that can help you. There’s no shame in reaching out.

Peace, love and sugar puffs

Zeenat Afzal.