I’ll never forget the day I was called a Psycho. It was during a discussion regarding the many ways in which Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) has been classified throughout history. From the WWI term “Combat Fatigue” to the Vietnam era’s “Shell Shock”, we cover these names in depth. Inevitably, the time came to define PTSD and how it impacted those affected by this monster of a disorder. One of the more vocal students raised her hands and confidently proclaimed,
“Those people will freak out and shoot up everyone around them if they hear a loud noise. They are real psychos.”
I was diagnosed with PTSD in August of 2016 and I have to say, it’s been a struggle. Not only was this young woman’s comment hurtful, but it was disappointing. The thought that in 2018 there are still people who do not understand mental health and choose to cling to outdated and ignorant assumptions was/is troubling.
I compiled a short list of assumptions about mental illness in hopes to be another voice to combat these assumptions and the stigma that surrounds mental health.
1. You are your diagnosis
The most frustrating assumption that others make about people with mental health disorders is that our actions should always be attributed to a diagnosis. Once you find out someone has depression, any time they are sad it’s because of depression. Those with PTSD must be angry or hostile because of PTSD and no other reason.
Just because someone has a mental health disorder doesn’t mean they are unable to have a normal response to every day occurrences. If I step on a Lego and scream out in pain I’m not having an episode. I’m just remembering the painful reason why you don’t walk around barefoot when you’re babysitting children.
Do not put those with mental health issues in a hole. We are trying desperately to live our best lives and constantly attributing any flawed behavior to the monsters we fight daily is damaging to both the stigma surrounding mental health and our morale.
2. We can’t just be “Happy”.
“You should just be happy”
“Can’t you just be happy?”
Everyone from concerned family and friends to the occasional annoying acquaintance has probably said this to you if you have a mental health disorder. If you’ve said this to someone in a similar situation just know that we get it. It’s hard to watch someone you care about suffer and ever harder knowing there’s very little you can do to alleviate their suffering. Telling someone to “just be happy” does more harm than good. You tell them to ignore their very real and human emotions while simultaneously shaming them for being depressed in the first place. A better question to ask would be “how can I be there for you?” Putting on a smile and ignoring their suffering probably contributed to them being in their current situation in the first place. Remember, life isn’t a Bobby McFerrin song, we can’t just stop worrying and be happy.
3. We are NOT psychos.
The truth is… I’m more afraid than anything. I’m afraid that no one will be able to love someone who is “broken”. I’m afraid my family will always look at me with pity and apprehension. I’m afraid that I’ll be overcome by a panic attack and break down in public. I’m afraid of many things. I don’t want to hurt anyone and I’m not angry. There are some cases regarding mental health disorders where people are actual psychopaths, or a person who suffers from a chronic disorder in which they exhibit abnormal or violent behaviors. John Wayne Gacy AKA “Killer Clown” is an example of a psychopath. It is estimated that 1% of the general population are psychopaths and not all act violently, at least not physically. To relegate all people with disorders such as PTSD, Schizophrenia or TBIs to the status of “psychopath” is again not only hurtful, but detrimental to the help-seeking behaviors of those afflicted with such disorders as it furthers ignorant stigmas surrounding Mental Health.
4. It is not a sign of weakness to get help.
I was in the United States Air Force when I first decided to seek help. I’ll never forget the day my commander came down to my work section and asked to speak with me in private. No supervisor. No First Sergeant. Just the commander and me. In the military, there is a fear that showing “weakness” or being unable to continue to perform your job duty will lead to disciplinary action or even harassment from your leadership. As we sat down my nerves got the better of me but then he said something that was amazing to me.
“I want you to know how brave I think you are for seeking help”
He told me I was brave. That I had the full support of him and his team and if I needed anything that I could let him know. I don’t know how much people know about the military but for a Colonel to take the time to sit down with a junior enlisted member and show that kind of support is rare. I found out that many other service members weren’t as lucky as me. Many were harassed, mistreated and ultimately forgotten. It is not a sign of weakness to get help for mental health disorders. It takes courage to face yourself and come out of it a better person. The only time a mental health disorder should negatively impact your personal and professional life is if it’s left untreated. Don’t be afraid of what others will think and get the help you need.
These are just a few of the damaging stigmas surrounding mental health and deterring those who may need the aid of a psychologist. There’s no shame in getting help and much to be gained. With the number of suicides increasing and the recent number of high profile suicides in mind, there is no better time than the present to learn about and combat the stigma surrounding it.
For more information about mental health disorders and issues surrounding mental health visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.