It has been widely believed throughout the world, that those with a mental health illness and/or disorder are qualified strictly for low-stress, quiet, simple jobs.  Belief is, the mentally ill are unable to live a functioning and normal life, including all the stresses that come with it. It is because of the stigma around mental health in which this belief stems from, however, every single day, there are mental health advocates out there stressing the complete opposite terms of the mentally ill.

With May being Mental Health Awareness month, there have been plenty of activities that you could partake in, such as Mental Health Associations’ (MHA) #4Mind4Body calendar.  However, MHA is not the only organization out there trying to break the mental health stigma. There are other organizations such as National Alliance for Mental Health, To Write Love on Her Arms, and Operation Semicolon (just to name a few), who have been working tirelessly to break the stigma that just because you have a mental illness/disorder does NOT in any way, shape or form mean that you CANNOT SUCCEED.

Ask anyone with a mental illness, and they will tell you some variation of: “when I say I’m sad, they tell me to get over it;” “when I tell them I’m having trouble forgetting a trauma, they tell me to ‘just stop thinking of it.’”  When it comes to a mental health issue, people react differently than say a broken leg, cancer, heart attacks. If it isn’t a physical disability, a biological disease taking over your body one organ at a time, then people do not react when told of mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder.

These reactions are because of the stigma that surrounds mental health.  People don’t want to speak about mental health because they don’t understand it.  They are not properly educated on the affects mental illnesses/disorders can have on an individual.  And, they don’t want to “get brought down with you.” And because they believe that those with mental illnesses are always sad, not happy, not stable, not independent enough – they believe that those with mental illnesses cannot fully succeed in whatever their dreams may be.  Mental illnesses are seen more as a character flaw – even in the medical field – than a true illness. And that “character flaw” defines their “success” in life.

All of that being said, there are plenty of examples that disprove this mentality and thought process.  For instance, Abraham Lincoln, the 16th President of the United States of America, and the man everyone gives credit to for saving the union, historians believe that if he were alive today, he would have been diagnosed with clinical depression and post-traumatic stress disorder.  His depression may have helped him politically, they believe, because his depression helped to humanize him and drew sympathy from the people. However, now, people would see his depression and PTSD as a liability instead of an asset; they would see him as an unstable candidate rather than human.  Carrie Fisher, the Princess of Star Wars, was diagnosed bipolar and had a substance abuse issue. She came clean about these issues later on in life, but nonetheless, the people still only looked at her as Princess Leia from Star Wars. Jim Carrey, the famous and hilarious 1990’s star, has been open and honest about his depression, and actually eventually ended up deciding to stop medications, drugs, alcohol, and any other stimulants in order to stay mentally healthy.  J.K. Rowling USED her depression while creating the world we know of as Hogwarts and the boy-who-lived snuck into our hearts. A single mother, penniless, and not knowing what her future held, J.K. Rowling began the “Harry Potter” series on a napkin on a train to see her mother.

We all knew and loved Robin Williams, his smile was contagious, his laughter uncontainable, his goodness unmeasurable, and yet, his life with depression was unknown in a way only uncovered by his own death by suicide in 2014.  People, to this day, still can’t understand how someone who gave so much laughter to so many people could have had depression. But, it’s like he, himself, once said, “[he] thinks the saddest people try their hardest to make people happy because they know what it’s like to feel absolutely worthless and they don’t want anyone else to feel like that.”  And what you likely did not know about America’s first and only multi-billionaire person of African American descent, is that she has post-traumatic stress disorder and anxiety. Yes, we are in fact speaking of THE Oprah Winfrey. Born into poverty by a teenage mom, physically abused by her grandmother, sexually assaulted by her cousin when she was only 9 years old and then repeatedly raped for years after that which would result in a pregnancy at the age of 14, the child died during infancy.  The sharing of her story all those years ago resulted in focus and understanding for countless other victims as well.

Where you come from does not determine where you go in life; just like having a mental illness or disorder does not determine how well you succeed in life.  These stigmas need to be rephrased and/or erased entirely from our vocabulary. The question is: what road do we, the mentally ill, have available to us to ensure how well we do or do not succeed?  How do we repel the stigma that surrounds us, while still being true to who we are? We should not be forced to hide parts of ourselves from future employers just because they might overlook us for the position because of a thought process that is filled with discrimination and stigma.

The answer is: receive the treatment you need, don’t allow the stigma to make you self-doubt or shame you into anything, don’t isolate yourself, don’t let your illness/disorder define you (i.e. I have been diagnosed with PTSD, depression, and anxiety disorders; it is not MY PTSD, MY depression, MY anxiety, it is simply a part of the personality I have now).  Other ways to succeed and break the stigma of mental illness include joining a support group and find people who have been through similar experiences or hardships, become their friends, allow them to be yours. A support group is the best way to break the stigma and succeed. Speaking out against the stigma is also a very large part of it. If you hear of someone stigmatizing a mental illness or disorder, even one that you may not know exists or you may know nothing about, call them out.  Explain the need of education pertaining to mental illnesses/disorders.

What are you talented at?  What has your dream job been since you were in elementary school?  What is it that you’ve ALWAYS wanted to do in life? What’s stopping you?  Your mental illness? Your mental disability? That is what other people WANT you to believe, those are excuses that your mental illness/disorder is making up for you; excuses stemming from the stigma surrounding mental health.  They are excuses stemming from self-doubt, and in order to succeed, you must not allow those stigmas and excuses to cloud your judgement. Do whatever it is you have to do to remind yourself that you can succeed in all that you set up to do.  Remember, Thomas Edison did not fail, he found “10,000 ways that won’t work.” After all, if Oprah can become a multi-billionaire after all she went through, you can certainly become CEO of a major corporation, start your own business, work with a wildlife conservation to keep gorillas and other wildlife from becoming extinct.  Self-control. Self-control over your thoughts, despite whatever mental health issues you have, is the key to making sure you do not allow the stigma of the mental health condition that does NOT define you but rather you are diagnosed with in order to be successful in the future.

Katie Washkowiak is a married, stay at home mother to one son, three dogs, two cats, and a turtle.  She enjoys traveling, reading, writing, and playing with her son and animals.  Katie is currently passionate about bringing awareness to all health issues and current events that she feels need to be spoken about more. 

Read more of Katie’s works at www.writeousworks.com


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