October 8, 2021 | OPINION | By Paris Levin | Photo by Sydney Morris
As October is mental health awareness month, we take this time to discuss the stigmatization of mental illness. However, I often find these discussions to be quite narrow in their definition of mental illness.
When talking about mental health, we tend to focus solely on the same three things: depression, anxiety and eating disorders. I want to make it very clear that these are very serious mental health conditions and should be known to the public. The issue is that by bringing these same topics to light, we are perpetuating the stigmatization of all other mental health diagnoses.
I, personally, have Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (OCD) and feel quite passionate about this subject, as I too have been affected by stigma.
My room is nowhere near neat, and I don’t wash my hands for more than twenty seconds—although that is not to say people with OCD are all like me. My mental health diagnosis has a direct effect on my everyday life, by placing a variety of intrusive thoughts in my head that I, in return, will spend hours ruminating over to quell the anxiety that accompanies these thoughts.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), one third of those diagnosed with OCD have reported lifetime suicidal thoughts. Furthering our education on mental health disorders is suicide prevention.
OCD is just one of many disorders that has not received the same amount of exposure that depression has. Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD) is, I argue, one of the most heavily stigmatized mental health disorders. BPD is a personality disorder that greatly affects one’s mood regulation and stabilization. However, as YouTuber Pixielocks pointed out in their video discussing his diagnosis, it often is seen as being diagnosed as a bad person.
Perpetuating the idea that those diagnosed with BPD are inherently bad people adds immense guilt to those diagnosed and makes it harder for people to talk about this disorder; additionally, just like OCD, BPD also creates a higher risk of suicide.
Two disorders that are so stigmatized they are often used as jokes are schizophrenia and Dissociative Identity Disorder (or what once was Multiple Personality Disorder). The former causes auditory and visual hallucinations, which can leave those diagnosed feeling anxious and scared. At the same time, schizophrenic representation in media tends to decenter the diagnosed person from the rest of the story.
Dissociative Identity Disorder (DID), similarly, has time and time again been used as a tool for creating antagonists in stories — “Split,” “Psycho,” “Deadly Illusions,” just to name a few. In reality, Dissociative Identity Disorder is a trauma response, as those diagnosed have undergone repetitive childhood trauma.
However, instead of recognizing how traumatic childhoods have led to this extreme dissociation, Hollywood has used DID to show unhinged and dangerous antagonists — portrayals that actively harm the DID community.
These are just a few of a plethora of mental health disorders that seem left out of our education, evidently furthering their own stigmatization. Thus, I hope you take this month to really reflect on how you perceive certain diagnoses and take the extra effort to unlearn the stigma that those of us who have these diagnoses are working to dismantle.