Mental Illness Awareness Week
Despite the incredible progress made by younger generations, a stigma still lingers around mental illness. It's not uncommon for someone to call out their particularities as "so OCD," as if it's a quirk instead of a debilitating mental illness. Perpetuating a narrative that OCD is a "quirk" and using it as an adjective can minimize the experience of unwanted, intrusive thoughts, compulsive behaviors and can also contribute towards the stigma around other forms of OCD.
I've also seen anorexia romanticized as a condition of "willpower" and "discipline," unless, of course, the person "looks sick." Body diversity, as it relates to eating disorders, is often overlooked when we forget that malnourishment affects the body negatively at any size. Furthermore, anti-fat bias keeps so many people stuck in their eating disorder because they are rejected based on their size.
Many people nickname their mood changes as "bipolar moments," other times casually diagnosing people they've never met or steering clear of those with clinical diagnoses.
I've overheard people characterize those suffering from Borderline Personality Disorder as "too much," failing to consider what might have contributed to these psychological responses (i.e., trauma).
As a mental health therapy intern, I've observed harmful language used around mental illness. A negative dialogue around this can be dangerous, causing people to hesitate in reaching out for help. Additionally, this fear can be exacerbated by lacking visibility or representation in the media.
These were not issues discussed in classrooms when I was younger or in workplaces during my adulthood. Many adults shy away from these topics or tell us to keep them to ourselves in an attempt to avoid being ostracized or institutionalized. Much of this fear comes from judgment from others; will they view or treat me differently if they know about my disorder(s)? Will they project the stereotypes of the disorder(s) on me?
At the height of my struggle with OCD, I didn't know what an intrusive thought was or recognize I was struggling with them. I battled with intrusive thoughts for years before being diagnosed and introduced to treatment. I made a vow to myself early on that if I figured out the cause of my distress around the scary thoughts, I would share it with others. I started my Instagram page, the.lovelybecoming, in 2019, a year after my diagnosis. I initially started writing about eating disorders, then realized that both interact and play a role in my story.
It can take years for people to receive diagnoses when they don't see themselves portrayed in the media and are uneducated on the sometimes taboo topic of mental health. While I have become more of an open book and an enthusiastic advocate, I still struggle with using my voice when I hear comments about "being so OCD." The thought that most often flashed across my mind is, "should I disclose this about myself?" I hesitate because it's uncomfortable work to do, educating others about something I experience first-hand. Going along with societal norms, allowing diet culture to glorify weight loss, pretending I always have pleasant thoughts - this route is the easier to take and feels safer in many ways, too.
But it gets better. The work is worth it to decorate my home and not have to live in a treatment center. I get to travel now and can try new foods. It's worth it knowing I can be present in my school, my work, and with others. Ending the stigma around mental illness means being thoughtful about the language we use. It means getting to know people with mental illnesses because one person's diagnosis experience is likely to be different from another person's, based on their intersecting identities and lived experiences.
Ending the stigma helps all of us because we can release the shame we keep hidden inside. In releasing this, we can find belonging, whether that release is verbal or somatic or with nature. We need to listen to the stories of people struggling. We need to lean into education around mental illness from a young age and start a conversation about it because no one deserves to feel alone.
Let's end the stigma around mental illness so that more people can receive the help they need and become more connected to ourselves and others in our communities.