Editorial: The Stigma of Mental Illness

“The Talon” is releasing a series of stories regarding depression, anxiety, obesity, nutrition, sleeping habits, and time management. Sources were given the option to remain anonymous, as the topics are incredibly personal. Please be advised, the following story may be disturbing to some readers.

With the holidays approaching, it is important to remember each other. Be inclusive. Reach out to friends and family members. Put down your phone and connect.

My dad walked into my room and said, “I don’t know how to tell you this, but David’s brother killed himself.” He was a junior in high school. 17 years old. Just starting to find his place in the world. I don’t know why he ended his life, neither does his family. They suspect bullying had something to do with it. But what could he have been bullied about? He was a well-liked person, kind to everyone, a good student, a wonderful son and brother. But, like most of us, he had a secret he didn’t want out in the open. His secret was that he was schizophrenic. 

According to the American Psychiatric Association, schizophrenia begins to culminate for men in their late teens to early 20s, while women begin to experience symptoms in their 20s and early 30s. This illness is “characterized by episodes in which the patient is unable to distinguish between real and unreal experiences”. David told me his brother had just been diagnosed a few months prior to his suicide, hadn’t started medication yet, and only told a few people about his diagnosis, people who he considered friends. David said his brother started coming home from school upset. Apparently, others found out and started calling him “crazy” and “unstable”. Now, I don’t know for a fact if those actions led to his suicide, but I’m sure it didn’t help the situation as a whole. 

“Having depression feels like you’re falling in this dark hole that never ends.”

When you hear the phrase “mental illness”, what comes to mind? Some think of a person in an all-white padded room wearing a strait jacket. Others relate the phrase to movies such as One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest or Silence of the Lambs, and television shows like American Horror Story: Asylum. The stigma surrounding mental illness, and really, all mental health, has lessened over the years, but still exists. What’s even worse than the stigma is when bullies prey on those who can’t (or don’t) defend themselves. This can be worse than the stigma itself because the bullying can result in emotional depreciation of an individual’s mental state. Emilie Olsen (2014), Rebecca Ann Sedwick (2013), and Rehtaeh Parsons (2013) are just three of the hundreds of teenagers who have ended their lives due to bullying. The Center for Disease Control and Prevention states that “the suicide rate among youth aged 10 to 24 increased 56 percent from 2007 to 2017”.

Oak Hall is no different than any other school. There are students who struggle with their mental illness daily, some even hourly. It seems that nowadays, teenagers are reversing the stigma of mental illness, but not in the best way. “People either treat it like it is normal to have a mental illness, or people say that mental illness is not real and it’s just a method to get attention,” said Janet, an Oak Hall student. Janet suffers from depression and anxiety. She has noticed that if a student is upset about something, they will comment, “I want to kill myself,” being said in more of a sarcastic way instead of a serious way. Suicide is not a joke; mental illness is not a joke. Having friends who killed themselves, they never even hinted that something was wrong. To be perfectly honest, hearing students tell their friends in the hall that they’re depressed (in an incredibly gleeful way) is disturbing, especially to those who actually suffer from a mental illness. “People need to learn what anxiety and depression actually are and they need to stop saying they are depressed when they are sad, [and] stop claiming they have anxiety when they are nervous,” Janet noted.

Depression isn’t something people can just “get over” at the drop of a hat. They aren’t trying to be “Debbie Downers” on purpose and are most definitely not trying to get attention. Having depression feels like you’re falling in this dark hole that never ends. There’s no light at the end of the tunnel. In fact, a majority of people with depression, or other mental illnesses, don’t tell anyone in fear of being judged, bullied, etc. “During my time where I was very depressed, my friends claimed they were there for me… but I never really felt that they were actually there so that made it worse,” Janet said. “At the time, people would talk behind my back and say things about me which made me feel terrible too,” she continued. 

“Not every day is going to be a great day, but every day can be a manageable day.”

Amory, another Oak Hall student, had the opposite happen when she faced her battle with depression. “When I was starting freshman year, I felt like I was so alone in the world and I didn’t want to keep living, but I had friends who wanted to help me when I realized that it was more than just being sad every once in a while,” she explained.

Both Janet and Amory had such severe depression, they contemplated suicide. Those thoughts never escalated, however, as both students didn’t want to put their families and friends through the pain of their death. 

My mom always tells me, “If you don’t have anything nice to say, don’t say anything at all.” We don’t always know what someone is going through. Making fun of someone because they’re “different” says a lot more about the bully than the person they’re picking on. Being mean could end someone’s life…but being kind could save them. 

At Oak Hall, there are different avenues you can utilize if you’re stressed out, depressed, confused, anxious. The phrase, “If you see something, say something”, isn’t just for school violence. This includes if you hear a classmate talk about being discouraged, suicidal, anxious, etc. The concept of having an advisor is designed so students have someone they can trust and talk to, not just about school, but about the stressors in their lives. Teachers, administrators, school counselors, are all here to make sure you are okay in every sense of the word. Not every day is going to be a great day, but every day can be a manageable day. We need to look out for each other.

If you or someone you know is contemplating self-harm or suicide, please reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at: 1-800-273-8255. Someone is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week.