I was at this roadside rolls place on Brigade Road the other day, getting my usual double chicken + egg roll with one of my friends. We were just about to settle down on the sidewalk nearby to tuck into our meals when someone walking by yelled at us. “Leprosy people sleep there!” he said, as if cautioning us that the ground was going to crack right where we were going to sit. Of course, the man thought he was helping us, but all he really did was cause me to yell back “But it’s not contagious by touch!” By the time I was done with my exclamation, the man had passed by and only my friend was left to hear my rant about illness of any sort and the stigma attached to it.
Which brings me to this blog post.
First things first. What is stigma? It’s basically a public negative stereotype about a particular class of people, in this case, people afflicted with illness. The case with mental illness is just as bad as physical illnesses, but in a different manner altogether. Not only are people stigmatized as having something that’s ‘strange’ or ‘bad’; but their conditions are also sometimes trivialized to ‘be in the head’. Being ‘invisible illnesses’ – meaning that they have a neurological origin which don’t cause direct noticeable physical ailments – people also tend to think that they’re imaginary. Depression is a great example of a mental illness which – because of the stigma attached to it – goes unnoticed and/or underestimated. For a person who is clinically depressed, being told to ‘snap out of it’ or ‘grin and bear it’ often has the opposite effect. Anxiety is another such broad category of mental conditions that is sidelined to be thought of as a joke. ADHD? It’s not a made up disorder, or something that people use to excuse away their behavior. Not only this, but on hearing that someone is seeing a counsellor or is actually diagnosed to have a mental health problem, people tend to metaphorically take a cautionary step back. Out of misconceptions? Out of fear? Being told that ‘there’s nothing wrong with you, you just need to stop dwelling on it’ could lead to a person feeling more alone than ever before. Not getting treatment, or not disclosing it to friends and family due to such reactions could make the situation a lot worse than it already is.
It’s time for people to wake up to the reality and the implications of mental illness. It’s not a ‘bad’ thing. People who have these illnesses and conditions are not ‘bad’ or ‘weird’. And think about this; if someone can go to a doctor for a fever (which is related to abnormalities in the hypothalamus part of the brain), then shouldn’t it be considered okay to go to a doctor for something like depression (which is related to brain chemicals)?