May is mental health awareness month. It is therefore a good time to develop awareness about, and support for, people who have mental illness.
I have always despised the marginalization of certain groups, particularly those with mental illness. This passion has been reinforced by my majoring in behavioral sciences and leadership at the Air Force Academy.
Mental illness is more common than people think. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 1 in 5 adults in the United States experiences mental illness in a given year.
Sure, people are more willing to talk about mental illness today than they have been in the past. Yet, a stigma still exists. According to a consumer poll provided by the National Alliance on Mental Illness, more than half of the participants reported that mental illness is caused by personal weakness.
Furthermore, the American Addiction Centers surveyed over 2,000 people; their results indicate that the average person has no real understanding of mental illness. Respondents reported viewing the mentally ill as violent, unpredictable and dangerous. People, on average, tend to treat those with mental illness with reduced respect and dignity.
People should consider mental illness more like the way they consider physical injuries. If somebody has a leg in a cast, one wouldn’t typically assume that it occurred because of personal weakness. Mental illness is likewise caused by a number of factors outside one’s control. It often has a biological basis just like any other medical illness or injury. It can also be influenced by environmental factors. Neither of these is caused by a person being “weak.’
Psychologists know that many people provide simple explanations for others behavior. Accordingly, they say that people with mental illness should just “get over it” and could do so if they just chose to do so. Like we would ask somebody to just will their broken leg to heal.
By understanding the causes of mental illness, people should develop more empathy toward individuals dealing with psychological problems like depression, anxiety and schizophrenia. The resulting support affording to those who have mental illness appears to have real benefits. Research shows that social support can help reduce the duration of mental illness or, at least, help an individual with mental illness live more effectively. That type of understanding is a lot more beneficial than describing people with mental illness as “crazy” and making jokes at their expense. Take time to think about how you view people with mental illness. If you look down upon people with mental illness, consider being more empathetic. People with mental illness are just regular people. After all, pretty much everybody has their own trials and tribulations.
If you have mental illness, please talk with someone about what you are experiencing. Know that you are not alone and you are not weak. The illness does not define you, but your actions define the life you live.
Let’s do what we can to address this major social problem. In addition to treating people with mental illness more respectfully, one could also get involved directly by donating money or volunteering for a local organization like the National Alliance on Mental Illness — Colorado Springs. Another easy way to show support is to participate in a fun-run or a walk.
Quin’Shay Perkins is an Air Force Academy cadet majoring in behavioral sciences and leadership. She is from New Albany, Miss. The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of the Air Force Academy, the Air Force, the Department of Defense, or the U.S. government.