We’ve all seen this happen in real life. When someone we know or who is around us, does or says something that makes no sense to us, we almost reflexively call that person ‘psycho’ or ‘crazy’. I am guilty of it myself. An example being, something as minor as a friend not studying an important chapter for a test. What is most depressing about this is the fact that we do it almost inadvertently, because words like ‘psycho’ and ‘crazy’ are so entwined in our everyday lives. However, while no harm may be done by the use of those words in most scenarios, there is a group of people who suffer every time we use those words—the ones with mental illness.
Mental illness is arguably the most ignored illness in the world today. People care less about the ones with mental illness than they do about anyone else, with mental illnesses often receiving less media coverage than other kinds of illnesses over the world. The most commonly believed reason to the above might actually be the most insensitive; that mental illness has no visible external manifestations that a physical illness may have.
People often tend to classify mental illness as something that the affected are making up to gain something that they are otherwise unable to obtain. The reasoning for their belief is the fact that they have no proof of a mental illness. Unlike being able to see a physical injury such as a plaster on a fractured arm or a pair of crutches for injured legs. Additionally, even when a sufferer of mental illness practices self-harm such as cutting oneself, which leaves visible marks, people brand the sufferer as someone seeking sympathy or attention.
But mental illness is far from being fictional state. It is a very serious condition. According to a survey conducted by the School of Social Work at the University of Washington, over 90% of people who commit suicide have a diagnosable mental disorder. The Telegraph reported that one in every three teens under 15 in the United Kingdom suffer from some mental illness, a number that has risen by 10% in the past decade and has been referred to as ‘a slow-growing epidemic‘. To make matters worse, the same study found that mental illness affected boys and girls disproportionately. Out of the girls surveyed, 37% had three or more symptoms of psychological distress, such as feeling worthless or unable to concentrate, compared to 15% of the boys.
The World Health Organization reported that First World nations on average spend 5% of the total health spending on mental health; for third world countries, the figure is less than 2%. Thus, mental illness is a serious, complicated, and nuanced issue that affects people differently, based on their socio-economic conditions. It is not a stand-alone problem and can be both a cause and an effect of the various issues that the world community is faced with.
But even when we acknowledge the existence of a mental illness, evidence suggests that we have a bad way of dealing with the ones who have mental illness. In his piece on mental health on October 4, 2015, John Oliver brought to attention the two most common and damning ways that some American mental institutes deal with their patients. The first is something called Greyhound therapy. A process that began in the mid-1960s and is still seen in some states, where a patient would be put on a bus with a one-way ticket out of town and simply be forgotten after. The second is prison; with 2 million Americans with mental illnesses going to prison annually, leading to 10 times more people being imprisoned than at a mental health facility.
Finally, perhaps the worst treatment that is meted out to patients of mental illness is the trivilisation of the medical condition on social media. While misunderstanding posts, shares or comments by people suffering from mental illnesses such as depression by others is a sad but long-standing occurrence on social media platforms, a new and damning trend has reared its head on Facebook. The practice is based on the Netflix series “13 Reasons Why“, where the protagonist commits suicide and leaves behind 13 tapes outlining the 13 reasons and people that led her to take her own life.
Although the show focusses on some very serious issues such as teenage rape, peer pressure and homosexuality, and how these can contribute to a person’s depression; memes circulated on Facebook, quickly trivialized all of this in a trend where a person would make a post asking their friends to comment with their names and then reply with ‘tape’ or ‘no tape’, indicating whether these people would or would not be a reason for that person’s suicide.
In conclusion, mental illness and its treatment is one of the defining problems of our time. It is important to acknowledge those suffering from some form of mental illness and be understanding of their condition. On a larger scale, we need more infrastructural advances in order to raise mental health awareness and treat the ones with mental illness. Lastly, even if some of us don’t want to go out of our way to actively help someone suffering from a condition such as depression, the least we can do is not make their lives worse by trivialising the condition on Facebook or other social platforms.