The Home of Student Journalism at Lesley University

Stereotypes of Mental Illness Persist

Even at a time when more people are getting a college education, so many myths and stereotypes still persist. This is especially true about those of us living with a mental illness. There are common misconceptions about metal illness, such as:  someone with depression can just snap out of it; or obsessive-compulsive disorder means everything has to be clean and organized. Some people assume that individuals with mental health issues are dangerous– in movies and on television, people who have schizophrenia or experience psychosis are viewed as crazy, and they are portrayed as criminals.  Illnesses such as eating disorders, alcoholism or drug addictions are often perceived to be the fault of the person suffering from them. People think that someone needs more willpower and then they can simply start eating again, or not drink alcohol, or not do drugs.

Even in 2018, many people do not understand it’s not that simple, and individuals are suffering from a disease that was not self-inflicted.  As I mentioned, the media play a big role in the negative portrayal of mental illnesses.  In addition to being criminals, the media represent people with mental illnesses as looking disheveled and unclean. In reality, most people with mental illnesses wake up every day, they shower and look put together just like other “normal people.”  The media make it seem like you can look at someone, and right away you can tell they have a mental illness.  But that is not true. It is impossible to look at someone and know the thoughts and emotions that go through their head every day.

The media fail to portray mental illnesses accurately, which in turn creates stigma around the subject. What people see in the media regarding mental illness, they believe to be accurate.  But without having personal experience dealing with a mental illness, most people are never exposed to the reality of it.  It is worth remembering that mental illnesses differ within every individual. Someone who is dealing with depression can experience symptoms that are completely different from another individual who was also diagnosed with depression. There is not a singular way to portray any mental illness, because each individual has a unique experience when dealing with it.

Going to school at Lesley, I had high hopes that these mental illness stereotypes would not show up here. For the most part, people here do seem to have a better understanding, and more empathy regarding mental illnesses than I have seen at other places. And yet, even with this greater understanding, I have still witnessed people using common stereotypes. People can understand the realities of anxiety and depression. I have learned that generalized anxiety disorder and depression seem to go hand in hand, and are more common diagnosis. Due to these mental illnesses being more common, they seem to be less stigmatized.

If people have gone through it, they have an understanding of the challenges that accompany it. This is why I was so disappointed when I heard certain stereotypes being used. I had a discussion with a fellow student regarding my OCD and I learned that this individual had never been diagnosed with obsessive-compulsive disorder themself. I felt shot down when I was talking about my OCD tics with this fellow student and they responded by telling me about something that “bothered their OCD”. It honestly hurt because to me this person was making light of what it is actually like to live with OCD. I had to take a step back from this situation and allow myself to understand that this person did not make this comment with the purpose of being insensitive towards me.

I’m a psych major, but I acknowledge that even after taking psych classes, there are aspects of mental illnesses I will never understand. I cannot personally relate to someone who has a mental illness I have never had to deal with; but I can, however, listen and try to understand the challenges this person has to face. This is also why I was so disappointed with the conversation I had with the fellow student. This individual was also a psych major, but did not recognize their insensitivity. I hope that exposure to different psych classes and internship experiences will help change this individual’s perspective.

The same can be true for other Lesley students who are not psychology or counseling majors. There is a lot someone can learn from taking a course in psych or counseling, and it can be extremely eye-opening. It can help people to understand that it is one thing to learn about a mental illness, and it’s another to live with it. I do, however, appreciate that at Lesley, people are willing to listen. And when someone makes a mistake, they are willing to learn from what they did wrong and utilize this new knowledge.

Even though stereotypes still come up at times, people at Lesley accept being corrected; and just as important, they listen to other people’s feelings regarding the stereotype. There is less stigma regarding mental illness here at Lesley because of the open minded attitude most people allow themselves to have.  My hope is that one day, the kind of understand I’ve seen here will also be the norm in society.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *