The extent to which we judge things, simply because we do not understand them is truly disconcerting. We judge everything from inanimate objects to intellectual property to the most troubling of all, people. I suppose this is due to our inextinguishable compulsion to categorize things as a means of wrapping our heads around them. In a world ruled by duality, there is an abiding need to label things as either good or bad. It is as though branding something either positive or negative helps us sleep at night. The process goes a bit like this. We form a judgment as to whether something is good or bad. This opinion is then safely stored away in a little box in our head donning the appropriate title. There, it remains, easily accessible anytime we encounter that particular subject matter. If something is stored in the “bad box”, we tend to stay away from it, seemingly protecting ourselves from the imminent harm we so adamantly elude. Perhaps, we feel that potential protection from the unfamiliar is justification enough for our harsh criticism and close-mindedness.
We are selfish beings; stubborn creatures of habit, rattled by change and threatened by the unknown. We struggle to open our minds to foreign concepts, especially when they do not pertain to our specific human experience. However, a discrepancy arises when we let our pre-existing, uncorroborated notions dictate our behaviour. When we have labeled something as negative, perhaps because we do not identify with it, we close ourselves off to the possibility of ever learning to understand it. This egocentric inability to comprehend matters inapplicable to us is actually synonymous with a lack of empathy, a trait commonly associated with sociopathic tendencies. Ergo, one can easily see how unsubstantiated judgments and dualistic categorization techniques can become problematic, particularly when these practices are proliferated within society, as a whole.
Alright, so there is a problem with our incessant need to judge and classify things. What am I getting at? I am so glad you asked. I would like to address this issue as it pertains to one of the most endemic yet actively disregarded elephants in the room: mental health. A topic so taboo that it is often closeted, despite its increasing prevalence, especially among today’s youth.
Mental health issues are one of the unfortunate matters that have winded up in those “bad boxes” in our heads. As such, there is a long-standing negative undertone associated with any quandary pertaining to the realm of the mind. Although, mental health ailments are in most instances, illnesses, just the same as those of the physical body, they are perceived entirely differently. Society seems to have equated mental health issues to personal and social dysfunction. Therapy, anti-depressants and other tools for treating mental ailments have thus been exclusively tethered to extreme conditions such as psychosis and derangement. This has given rise to hostile attitudes towards all forms of mental disorder. As such, victims often feel all alone, ashamed of their affliction, which hinders them from seeking out the help they require. In fact, in many instances, they feel obliged to suppress or hide the issue, for fear of being judged or stigmatized by others, including those closest to them. Extended periods of suffering and quiet, lonesome despair are what frequently lead to more extreme actions, such as self-harm, substance abuse and suicide.
Variations of mental illnesses have always been present in my surrounding; depression, obsessive compulsion, eating disorders, to list only a few. Despite their widespread presence, I too am guilty of having turned a blind eye for many years. I had been conditioned to believe the negative stigmas surrounding the issues and thus was uncomfortable with the prospect of facing them. It was not until a 17-year old me was watching a documentary about eating disorders that I began to draw parallels between my own self-image issues and these ailments of the mind. I am not proud that it took unfavourable experiences of my own to heighten my level of compassion but I am thankful that it occurred, nonetheless.
The way I see it, most mental health ailments are present to an extent, within all of us. If we stopped simply skimming the surface of the mental health realm and dug a little deeper, many of us would be surprised to find that we all harness traits associated with these disorders to some degree. This may be unsettling for some but take a minute to really think about it.
How many of us yo-yo on every fad diet, completely obsessing over our appearance, hating what we see in the mirror everyday? An attribute of eating disorders. How many of us have unusual compulsions that we exonerate as one of our beloved character quirks? An element of obsessive-compulsive disorder. How many of us have days where we are so engrossed in feelings of misery and self-loathing that we use escapism in its many different forms to seek alleviation? A facet of depression. So, don’t we all then, to an extent, suffer from mental health obstacles, even if they are only occasional? How then, can we justify this ongoing lack of awareness and the senseless systemic categorization of those who are victims of these more serious, life-threatening conditions?
We must remember that we do not know the personal struggles that each person has encountered. We do not know about the internal and external factors that may have lead them to the point that they are at. We do not know about the biological or situational variables that may have exacerbated the magnitude of problematic mind patterns, leading to more serious conditions, that we classify as mental health disorders. Given the right circumstances, those specific traits may have prevailed within us, as well.
So many suffer alone, when they are so far from it. So many lives are lost because the victims feel that their condition renders them societal outcasts. Somehow, society has propagated the message that lives are less important than facing the discomfort of discussing sensitive topics. I respectfully say, fuck that. It is time to talk. It is time to put ourselves in another’s shoes. It is time to let all victims of mental health afflictions know that they are not alone. That their condition is taken seriously. That it is okay to not be okay. That there is no shame in requiring help. That it does not make them weak or inadequate. That having a psychiatrist does not make you a lunatic. That taking antidepressants or mood stabilizers for chemical imbalances does not deem you insane. That struggling with anorexia does not make you shallow. That you are not your illness. That, just as a physical disease does not define you or lessen your worth as a beautiful, unique being, neither does one of the mental realm.
Let’s all do ourselves a favour and burn those little boxes in our heads where groundless criticism and antipathetic convictions run rampant. Let’s open our minds and our hearts. Let’s utilize the core emotion that makes us human: empathy. Let’s be empathic of one another without the labels and the judgment. Let’s give mental health victims a voice. Let’s be the generation that eradicates the negative stigmas surrounding real issues such as this one. Let’s be the change.
*If you are struggling with a Mental Health condition or simply need someone to talk to, you are never alone. Head to BetterHelp.com for additional resources, or to speak with an online therapist. Help is at your fingertips. https://www.betterhelp.com/start/
Gibraltar, May 2015.