Let’s Tell the Story of Mental Illness

By Myna Francis

I grew up hearing, seeing and believing that everyone was happy, normal; there’s no room in life for you to be sad.

The happy people were everywhere in my small town: happy kids running around, teens who seemed completely normal, teachers who always presented a smile. The only mentally ill were in storybooks and television.

I never heard one word about how the five year old girl sitting amidst her friends dressed in pink with pigtails and a wide grin was actually suffering with bulimia because she wanted to be as skinny as her friends. Or that the boy who you went to baseball practice with, who always tried his best, was depressed because he wasn’t a good enough player to impress his over expectant father.

I never heard one word about the biology teacher who went home after work and had anxiety attacks because of the student who misbehaved in his class. Or about the teenager whose OCD was so bad that she couldn’t go to a friends house without cleaning everything perfectly. Or that the lady who was in front of you at the grocery store was buying all the food to eat, just to throw it up later that night. I never learned that there were people out there who were going through these situations. All the people in my childhood were happy, average. Or so I thought.

I never learned about the effects of stress on people’s lives. I never learned that so many people were struggling. ‘Mental Illness’ wasn’t one of the Disney Movies in my cupboard. I never learned that people were severely depressed. I never learned that people refused to eat or even ate too much just to throw it up. So when other people told me about depression and told me about anxiety, I was ready to believe that I was listening to the wrong sources, the wrong facts. The storybooks and cartoons and movies about pure happiness wasn’t for the likes of me, an ambitious child from a small town.

Well, the stories were wrong. 

People around the world are finally opening their eyes to this issue, one that I realized as a teenager. Just look around you. Even the smallest towns have people who are suffering from mental illnesses. Yet, we still all have similar characteristics in ways, so nobody is truly normal.

Sure the stories teach lessons, but they aren’t completely telling them the truth.

Certain foundations, such as the National Institute for Mental Illness, hold public movements to educate us about mental illnesses. They say that we need to raise awareness of such disorders, we need to ‘erase the stigma’. What that means, according to the foundation, is that we need to stop using these disorders out of context. That people do truly suffer with these illnesses, that there are people out there who do need help. It calls for our society to open up and spread the word. In other words, show our children the good and the bad of society, and give them the knowledge to learn how to cope with themselves and others. What could be healthier?

Several counter arguments are present against the fact that we need to do more in showing awareness of mental illness. A major argument is that, by labeling these mental illnesses, people will say that they have them when they don’t. But this has already happened. Nearly everyday I hear someone say that they’re having an anxiety attack when they honestly have no idea how an anxiety attack truly feels. This stigma is already out there.

He who has health has hope. 

This is why I, with my diagnosed anxiety, and all other sufferers, with their hidden secrets in fear of humiliation, are all normal. It shows the unique beauty of the individual. It has come to the time we let all our children gaze upon it.