Aicha Ly | Opinion Editor
Mental illnesses have likely been a part of reality since human existence; for thousands and thousands of years. There have been numerous stigmas about its origins and nature; some civilizations believed that mental illnesses were the result of sinister--an individual’s mind fractured by demonic influences. This resulted in events such as inhumane incarceration in prisons and mental asylums with terrible conditions and forms of “treatment.”
It is only relatively recently that stigmas about people with mental illnesses have steered away from viewing these individuals as broken, evil, or crazy. Finally, more awareness is being brought to the biopsychosocial factors that go into mental illnesses. People are also starting to realize that mental illnesses are more prevalent in our societies than we thought, due to numerous factors even today such as rising costs of living, healthcare and education that are resulting in more and more debt, stress and academic rivalry as people pile up their resumes for college applications in the hope of scholarships even if this means the temporary sacrifice of self care and risk of burnout. There is also the issue of the pandemic which is about to hit its two year anniversary in December 2021, marking the loss of hundreds of millions of lives worldwide. Survivors of the pandemic now live in a world rapidly changed, dealing with the effects of isolation and the cancellation of milestones in life such as graduations and weddings. Furthermore, climate change is worsening--accompanied by an increase in the severity and frequency of natural disasters. These are only some examples of factors that are contributing to mental illnesses. It is wonderful that these are being recognized, and that people are finally being validated about their mental health--given ways to help treat or manage it through therapy, support groups (virtual or in real life) and more. However, with this awareness comes the issue of societal irresponsibility.
First, we need to stop the idea that mentally ill individuals are violent. Not all mass shooters are mentally ill; some people genuinely do just carry a heavy hate in their hearts that motivates them to harm others knowing exactly what the magnitude of their actions is. They are not necessarily free of guilt, responsibility or awareness due to some sort of mental condition. Most people with mental illness are not violent. Secondly, people need to stop invalidating mental illnesses by treating them like a trend and using conditions as a description for temporary conditions or emotions. Words are powerful, using mental illnesses as everyday adjectives is harmful. No, you are not necessarily “depressed” because you failed your math test. You are probably disappointed; maybe devastated but likely not depressed. Depression is a chronic, mental health condition. No, you likely actually do not have anxiety because you are about to present a speech in front of an audience. You are probably just anxious. We have gone a long way in education when it comes to mental health, society is more accepting about it. However, we still have progress to make and that starts with being conscientious about how we use our language because it has a way of shaping our own perspectives and that of others.