Why do we find it so hard to accept and understand mental illnesses?

According to the National Association of Mental Health in the USA, one in five people will have suffered from a mental illness in a given year. Most people with mental illnesses if diagnosed and treated can go ahead to live productive and fulfilling lives.

However, in many cases, persons with mental illnesses and their families do not seek proper care for fear of being stigmatized by society. If not given the right help, people with mental illnesses can suffer from problems including social isolation, unemployment, and poverty.

Why do we find it so hard to accept and understand mental illnesses?

Perhaps it's because historically people with mental disabilities have been viewed as being aggressive, hard to talk to and in some cases dangerous. Media has perpetuated these ideas by depicting these characteristics when actors play the role of an individual suffering with a mental illness.

According to the National Institute of Health, people suffering from mental illnesses have a dual challenge. One is of coping with the symptoms of the disability that they are dealing with and the other is the perceptions that society holds with regards to that illness.

Unlike physical disabilities which people have more sympathy for, individuals with mental illnesses are often perceived by people to be in control of their condition, to be weak and to a certain extent responsible for it even though this is far from the truth of the matter.

It's time we brought a change in the way we as a society think about and react to mental illnesses. We need to start talking openly about mental health challenges that are faced by our loved ones, so as to ensure that they are understood. We need to educate ourselves with regards to the truth about mental illnesses and those suffering from the same, so we can challenge someone who might be stereotyping. Be careful about the language (using the word "retard" to address someone) you might be using that stigmatises people living with mental illnesses.

Show equal empathy to individuals struggling with a mental illness as you would to a person suffering from a physical ailment. Empower individuals you know who might be suffering from a mental illness to reach out and get help so that they can make friends, work and lead a full life.

Stigma will not go away on its own, but if we as a society work collectively, we can bring about a change in the way people struggling with mental illnesses are perceived.

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