Ignorance is not bliss


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With over 450 million people having been diagnosed with a mental illness worldwide, mental health is a widespread issue among individuals of various racial, ethnic, and financial backgrounds contrary to popular belief.

Ximena Bejarano, Staff Writer

“Stop acting schizophrenic.”

“Why are you being so bipolar?”

These are only a couple of the examples revealing how mental illnesses are viewed in today’s society. Individuals suffering from mental illness often display undesirable symptoms and, as a result, are inaccurately perceived or labeled by others, thus making them feel obligated to mask their personal struggles from the outside world.

[T]he negative connotation towards schizophrenia by the general public appears to be more alive than it has ever been.

— Staff Writer Ximena Bejarano

Schizophrenia, for instance, is a brain disorder that severely affects how a person thinks and behaves. Those suffering from the disorder live in a distorted reality due to their frequent episodes of both auditory and visual hallucinations. Although aged literary sources claiming that schizophrenia is truly demonic possession have diminished throughout the years, the negative connotation towards the brain disorder by the general public appears to be more alive than it has ever been. Schizophrenics who showcase the previously mentioned symptoms are often harassed and categorized as insane by those who are unfamiliar with the disorder’s symptoms and severity. These individuals fail to acknowledge that its sufferers’ minds work in conjunction with its unrestrainable dominance in their daily lives.

The derogatory view towards schizophrenics is exemplified through the situation of Marina Joyce. Joyce, an online personality primarily on YouTube, caught the attention of millions of internet users worldwide when she released a viral video that sparked concern in its viewers. In the video, Joyce appears questionably disoriented and almost unable to stand, acting as if she were out of touch with reality. Other videos published under her account that were filmed several weeks earlier also raised concern for Joyce and her wellbeing. Viewers formed an array of theories, suggesting that Joyce may have been in an abusive relationship with her boyfriend or, in a more severe situation, kidnapped by ISIS. The online chaos ultimately came to a halt when Joyce’s mother, Cheryl Joyce, confirmed that her daughter was not endangered in any form.

The confirmation of Joyce’s safety, however, did not abstain millions of internet users from performing further investigation of her unusual behavior. Several investigators have speculated that Joyce suffers from schizophrenia based on the symptoms that she openly exhibits in her videos, such as being supervised by her mother on a regular basis, incessantly repeating words and suddenly fixating on a stationary object while recording her videos. Several viewers believe that she may be experiencing a hallucination triggered by her condition when this happens.

The probability of Joyce having schizophrenia, however, does not stop some internet users from mocking her on social media platforms, including PewDiePie, the most subscribed user on YouTube, who openly bashed Joyce in one of his videos. Various Twitter users have also contributed to turning Joyce into a laughingstock by making jokes about her for retweets as well as creating accounts devoted to degrading her for displaying potential symptoms of schizophrenia on her YouTube channel.

Although Joyce has not released an official statement addressing that she has schizophrenia, the treatment of her on social media is nonetheless distasteful. Beyond the memes and parodies targeting Joyce, internet users harassing her fail to realize that she is a human being who deserves respect like any other individual. The mocking of Joyce does not only dehumanize her but also promotes the stigma surrounding sufferers of mental illness. Too many individuals, both on the internet and in real life, claim that they are advocates for mental health issues and supporters of those with mental illness yet unknowingly contradict their words with their actions, and the overall behavior towards Joyce is a prime example of this offense.

Because the symptoms that accompany mental illnesses are often disadvantageous, being labeled as mentally ill is considered to be detrimental to one’s image. Kid Cudi, an American rapper, recently disclosed his plans to enter rehab for his depression and suicidal compulsions on a Facebook post. In his post, Cudi elaborates on his feelings of sorrow that coincide with frustration and touches on the difficulty of continuing to live without formally addressing his anxiety and depression. “My anxiety and depression have ruled my life for as long as I can remember, and I never leave the house because of it,” Cudi said. “I can’t make new friends because of it. I don’t trust anyone because of it, and I’m tired of being held back in my life.”

Despite the destructive impact both conditions have on the quality of Cudi’s relationships and life altogether, he specifies in the beginning of his post that it took him a significant amount of time to “get to this place of commitment.” The fact that Cudi initially refused to seek professional help for his anxiety and depression, two mental illnesses that have deteriorated his mental health and nearly driven him to commit suicide, substantiates the negative attitudes towards those with psychiatric vulnerabilities that are present in today’s society. Near the end of his post, Cudi apologizes several times for his personal struggles that inhibited him from releasing his newest album. “I am sorry if I let anyone down,” Cudi said. “I really am sorry. I’ll be back, stronger, better. Reborn. I feel so ashamed. I’m sorry.”

Cudi is not the only person with a mental illness who feel embarrassed for having it. Millions of people in the United States suffer from an assortment of mental illnesses and, like Cudi, are afraid of being falsely portrayed as weak when opening up to others. The hurtful connotations associated with each individual mental disorder play an enormous role in humiliating the mentally ill and ultimately preventing them from seeking professional treatment.

Clinical depression, for example, is an ongoing feeling of despair coexisting with a loss of interest in most aspects of life. There are numerous symptoms of depression, but the majority of them are neither fun to experience nor glorious in any way. Because those suffering from depression may isolate themselves from their family and friends and no longer want to participate in activities they once loved, for instance, it is easy for them to be dismissed as antisocial by those around them who are unaware of the pain-provoking illness pervading their thoughts. Other inconvenient symptoms of depression include slowness and lack of concentration in academic settings. Teachers and peers may classify depressed students as incapable of reaching success when they display such signs, shattering their remaining confidence and self-esteem. Even being unable to get out of bed, one of the most common symptoms of depression, is viewed as no more than an act of laziness.

In response to the widely prevalent stigma of mental illness, countless individuals suffering from them are forced to disguise their internal struggles from their family, friends, and loved ones in fear of being looked down upon otherwise. According to the National Alliance of Mental Illness, approximately eighteen percent of adults in the United States experience a mental illness in a given year, whereas twenty-one percent of 13 to 18-year-olds face a severe mental disorder at some point during their lives. These statistics, which do not include the large amount of undiagnosed individuals in the nation, indicate that one out of five students we encounter throughout the school day, regardless of their race, ethnicity, family’s gross income, and other factors, have a mental illness, which can negatively affect their daily lives and potentially lead to serious consequences in the future.

Another issue actively feeding the stigma of mental illness is the lack of acknowledgement of mental illnesses within minority populations. We are under the dangerous assumption that racial and ethnic minorities are incapable of being mentally ill, yet this notion is far from the truth.

According to the Health and Human Services Office of Minority Health, African Americans are ten percent more likely to report having serious psychological distress than Non-Hispanic whites. A multitude of African Americans, however, underestimate their complications and do not consider them as possible side effects of a mental illness, let alone communicate with a mental health professional guiding them on the path of recovery. This is due to the existence of certain factors within the black community, such as the lack of discussion on mental health and strong reliance on family for emotional support during life-changing situations. Because mental health is not a topic frequently explored among blacks, many of them may not be aware that they have a mental illness and, therefore, either turn to their family members for assistance or attempt to manage their problems on their own rather than obtain professional help.

The scarce recognition of mental illnesses in African Americans is considerably detrimental to their wellbeing, especially when they are equally, if not more, vulnerable of having excruciating mental health conditions in comparison to their racial counterparts. Because only 25% of African Americans seek mental health care, an unsettling amount of psychiatrists and other professionally trained individuals in mental health are either unsure of how to efficiently provide their services to them or, in the worse case scenario, belittle their concerns and fuel the flame of stigmatizing mental illness.

Distasteful jokes targeting those suffering from mental illness play a significant role in preventing them from seeking the professional treatment they need in order to cross the vital threshold of recovery.
Courtesy of lolsotrue.com
Distasteful jokes targeting those suffering from mental illness play a significant role in preventing them from seeking the professional treatment they need in order to cross the vital threshold of recovery.

Asian Americans have also had their unfair share of discrimination when it comes to receiving mental health support. Although Asian Americans in the United States have relatively lower rates of mental illness over non-Hispanic whites, they, according to the National Latino and Asian American Study, seek professional treatment less often. The most common risk factors for depression and other mental illnesses among Asian Americans include feeling an overwhelming pressure to succeed academically in order to satisfy their parents as well as facing discrimination from others due to their racial background. Due to a widely adopted cultural respect for hard work and success, an abundance of Asian families place emphasis on performing well in high school, receiving an acceptance letter to a prestigious university, and ultimately earning a high-paying job and flourishing financially. Although there is nothing wrong with having high standards, forcing them upon Asian teenagers often turns into a recipe for disaster, especially when they feel restricted from freely pursuing their personal interests. It is not unusual for Asian teenagers experience high stress as they attempt to fulfill their parents’ standards, opening the doors for future depression.

On the other hand, when Asian teenagers refuse to follow the path to success paved by their parents, they are negatively perceived and unreasonably shamed by their families and society. Failing to embody the smart, high-achieving Asian stereotype that so many conceptualize leads to Asians falsely believing that they are strictly defined by their grades and thus convincing themselves that they’re inadequate when their academic performance is below their standards. In addition to the intense pressure Asians face to succeed, they, like other minorities in the nation, experience racism and an intolerance towards their race and distinctive culture on a daily basis. Aside from the risk factors previously mentioned, depression and other mental illnesses can also be triggered in Asians by other problems, such as abuse and major life events.

Although Native Americans and Alaskan Natives are only one percent of the United States’ total population, the American Psychiatric Association reports that both groups experience psychological distress that is more than one-and-a-half times greater than that of the general population. In Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General, the Department of Health and Human Services in the U.S. Public Health Service states that American Indians and Alaskan Natives also experience post-traumatic stress disorder more than twice as often than the general population. It is oftentimes said that trauma is woven into the DNA of Native Americans.

After examining 32 survivors of the Holocaust in the 20th century and their families, a research team led by Rachel Yehuda, the director of the Traumatic Stress Studies Division at the Mount Sinai School of Medicine, concluded that the children of the victims had a higher likelihood of developing the stress disorder. Despite the fact that this study does not directly involve Native Americans, it has confirmed that the traumatic events that occur during one generation’s lifetime indirectly affect the genes of the generation succeeding it. Native Americans have been subject to mistreatment since the beginning of American history, and certain events that negatively impacted the Native American community, such as the Trail of Tears and Wounded Knee Massacre, justify this statement. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide is the second leading cause of death among 10- to 34-year-old Native Americans and Alaskan Natives, clearly revealing that suicide is not an issue exclusively among the non-minority population.

The stigmatization of mental illness within the Hispanic community is equally damaging, especially when 18.9% of Hispanic students in grades 9-12 have seriously considered attempting suicide and 15.7% have made a plan about how they would commit it. Even more concerning is the fact that less than 1 in 11 Hispanics with mental disorders contact a mental health specialist. Parallel to African Americans, many Hispanic men and women fail to seek professional treatment due to the presence of several community factors, such as the lack of discussion pertaining to mental health and dependence on family members for solace in times of difficulty. Because the topic of mental health is rarely brought up in the Hispanic community, a multitude of individuals in it are often unaware of the warnings signs of mental illness and, as a result, overlook the symptoms they or a loved one might display. The majority of Hispanics also place great emphasis on family values and prioritize their closest relatives over others. The heavy reliance that Hispanics have on their family members and even religious figures, such as the Lady of Guadalupe, often prevents them from contacting a mental health specialist that is able to provide professional advice and necessary treatment for recovery.

It is also essential to consider that mental illnesses are oftentimes not distinguishable from an outside perspective. Depression is not the commonly conceived image of a boy sitting against the wall with his head against his arms or the quiet girl in your math class who exclusively wears the color black. It can be, but that doesn’t mean that those who don’t necessarily fit into the stereotypical mold of a depressed teenager can’t be in pain behind closed doors, as well. Sometimes the people in our lives who are in the tormenting grasp of a mental illness are the ones who we would never expect to be. These are the people who convincingly put on a fake smile, courageously take on the world each day like everyone else, and fool us into believing they’re grounded enough to avoid tumbling into the pits of self-hatred. The overall majority of individuals with mental illnesses choose to conceal their personal struggles from public view in fear of receiving harsh judgment or being alienated from society, which, unfortunately, often makes it more difficult to detect the warning signs until it’s too late.

Having an ideal life from an outside perspective does not serve as an obstacle to developing a mental illness. Just because someone is financially successful, for instance, does not automatically mean that they aren’t at risk of developing a mental illness. The majority of our society is convinced that money equals happiness, and, if we think about it, they have a point. Having money allows us to engage in the latest fashion trends, purchase the newest iPhone model, visit breathtaking places around the world, and live in luxury altogether. Money cannot buy happiness that stems from meaningful relationships, but as the quote goes, “It’s more comfortable to cry in a Mercedes than on a bicycle.”

Because we view prosperity as the ultimate meaning of success, however, we fail to recognize that financially successful individuals aren’t always in a sunshine state of mind and, like the rest of us, also have their own personal conflicts. Too many of us attempt to associate mental illness with being lower class or homeless, which does not only promote the stigma against mental illness but also overshadows the fact that anyone is capable of being mentally ill regardless of how financially secure they are. Not everyone who is homeless has a mental illness, and not everyone who is brimming with wealth is always smiling. Many of us have been falsely convinced by the media that having a never-ending bank account balance and thousands of bills to spare is obligatory in order to be fully satisfied with ourselves but fail to realize that freedom, love, peace, and other abstract ideas that make life worth living cannot be obtained with money nor the strictly material objects it can buy.

Sometimes the people in our lives who are in the tormenting grasp of a mental illness are the ones who we would never expect to be.

— Staff Writer Ximena Bejarano

This means that even residents of Peachtree City, a seemingly perfect small town composed of high-ranking public schools, lucrative Delta employees, and mansion-like homes built on beautifully manicured lots, and other upscale communities are prone to facing difficulties in life, including living with mental illness. In 2005, Suniya Luthar and Shawn Latendresse performed a study revealing a possible correlation between children belonging in affluent families and declining mental health. Luthar and Latendresse concluded that because children with thoroughly educated, upper class parents are typically pressured to set unreasonably high standards for themselves as part of following their parents’ footsteps, they have a higher susceptibility of either developing a mental illness, channeling their stress into substance abuse, or both.

Yet mental health is rarely discussed where we live, mainly because we have not only falsely convinced everyone situated outside of Peachtree City that it is an ideal community to be a part of but ourselves, as well. With a successful school system intact and most families being able to pay for their graduating child’s tuition, the majority of young adults living in the dwarf-sized town have a bright future ahead of them, so there is no possibility that someone might be less than content with their life, right? We have even grown to adopt a cutesy nickname for our town – the “bubble.”

To claim that individuals are incapable of being mentally ill solely based on where they live, however, is mostly an unreasonable judgment to make, for depression and other mental illnesses are commonly triggered by factors that can occur in any environment, such as major events and personal conflicts. Certain personality traits, especially perfectionism, have also been proven to make an individual more predisposed to engaging in disordered behaviors than their geographical location.

It is also worth knowing that someone who has a mental illness is always controlled by disordered thoughts, hence the label “mentally ill.” When a person has a mental illness, it reigns over the mind and everything in it. This means that it can easily block out one’s immediate surroundings, relationships, and, as it progresses, obliterate the remaining will to live, making suicide more of a desirable option. This is why it is so important to prioritize overcoming the stigma of mental illness that prohibits millions from getting help for disorders that will ultimately either kill them or cause them to kill themselves.  

According to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention, suicide is ranked as the tenth leading cause of death worldwide. The World Health Organization, an agency of the United Nations focusing on improving international public health, states that approximately one million people throughout the world commit suicide each year. On average, 117 individuals commit suicide per day in the United States, and for each individual who successfully takes his or her own life, at least twenty others attempt to do so.

Suicide is not an issue we can afford to ignore. With more than 450 million people having been diagnosed with a mental illness worldwide and, as previously mentioned, over one million people worldwide committing suicide each year, it is impossible to pretend that mental health is not a global issue demanding our attention. It’s time to break the silence and no longer ignore the fact that mental illness is ruining the lives of millions of people, especially with these alarming statistics.

Suicide undeniably has a lasting impact on those left behind. It instills an overwhelming feeling of sadness that lingers in the air even years after one of these tragedies occurs. The death of a loved one is one thing, but suicide is another. When someone we care for makes the decision to purposely end their life, we do not only find ourselves in mourning but also continuously wonder if the actions we didn’t take would have made a difference. As a result, people often cling to an enduring feeling of guilt and wrongly blame themselves for not detecting their hazardous mental state in time. There are no benefits to suicide whatsoever; it brings nothing but a shambolic tangle of pain, uncertainty, and discomfort among those it affects, so how can we prevent suicides from happening? In better terms, how can we prevent others from committing the act?

The key to lowering the suicide rate is to, once again, focus on defeating the stigma against mental illness and building an accepting community. It is imperative to grasp that a crucial part of creating a welcoming atmosphere involves paying careful attention to our day-to-day language. It is time for society to refrain from describing the mentally ill with hurtful adjectives and to alter ingrained perspectives so that no individual is viewed as weak but rather powerful for battling what lies within; let us no longer make it so that someone with a mental illness believes that they’re a failure for needing help.

With that being said, mental illness is not a topic of discussion to be taken lightly; it is not a punchline, nor will it ever be. We are much more sensitive towards those with a visible, physical illness, so why do we feel inclined to degrade mental illness and turn it into a distasteful joke for laughs? Belittling mental illness will only worsen a sufferer’s state of mind, yet we wonder why certain people in our lives were in so much emotional pain to the point where they felt that committing suicide was their only option. In order to make a difference, it’s critical that we begin speaking kindly of those around us now rather than after they’re gone, otherwise the deadly cycle will subsist and grow.

In addition, let us also take the time to enlighten ourselves about mental illness. By understanding what these inflictions are as well as how they affect their sufferers, our society as a whole can realize the dangers of mental illness and, as a result, begin treating others with compassion rather than insensitivity. If we serve as advocates for mental health without contradicting ourselves, the negative connotation towards mental illness would no longer cloud our judgments and thus may cease to exist, allowing sufferers to open up and become more willing to seek the mental health treatment they need in order to thrive.

By educating ourselves about mental illness, we will also become aware that anyone is capable of developing a mental illness regardless of their race, cultural background, financial income, or accomplishments. It is crucial that we understand that mental illness knows no boundaries and is powerful enough to take hold in anyone around us. Increasing awareness and understanding how to identify the characteristics of mental illnesses can help provide the necessary assistance for those who need it.

Lastly, we must show respect to those who are brave enough to reveal their unrelenting battle with mental illness rather than disregarding their claims. Some of us may believe that we are offering someone useful advice when we assure them, “you’re not depressed, you’re just having a bad day” or “you don’t have ADHD, you’re just not concentrating today.” Giving someone such “advice,” however, often backfires, for it does not solve their problems and, most of the time, only makes them feel worse about themselves. Whether or not we truly believe that someone we know has a mental illness, telling them that they’re mistaken about their state of mind is never the answer. The appropriate way to approach someone struggling with a mental illness is to listen to their concerns, provide constructive advice to them, and, more importantly, prioritize their happiness and wellbeing, because chances are likely that someone who is willing to open up about their personal struggles is pleading for help.

I propose that we begin making a difference in the world by creating a supportive environment that will serve as a safe haven where everyone feels compelled to uplift each other. Let us transform the world to be better for those who we have lost in our lives due to suicide or a mental illness; let us transform the world so that those who are tortured by their own thoughts will no longer be reluctant to get help in fear of being ignorantly shamed before it’s too late.

And, finally, let us no longer judge each other based on aspects of ourselves we cannot control and instead be considerate towards everyone we come across despite what their trivial differences may be, because mental illness, which anyone can become a victim of, can be disguised more easily than we think, and ignorance is not bliss.