Once we start seeing mental health dilemmas as issues all humans experience will we start to truly understand each other as human beings.
Growing up I always associated the term “mental illness” with mental institutions and extraordinary conditions. I associated the term with unfortunate patients with severe psychosis, wild trauma, and crippling depression. Mental illness meant deviance; people who were outcasts of society. I was a product of the environment I grew up in. My community had a wildly negative perception of anything associated with mental health.
Across the cultural spectrum in the US, there are varying perceptions of mental health, and what it means to be mentally ill. In other words, there are cultural differences in the way we perceive, feel, and act about people suffering from mental illness. In many communities such as my own, mental illness is typically associated with being incapable, almost inhumane. It wasn’t that they necessarily felt it was deserved or deliberate, but rather when it did happen, it meant these people were suddenly outcasts of the community. They were no longer seen as members of our community. In my personal experiences, seeing a family member of mine develop schizophrenia meant she slowly became estranged within my community. As a child, I did not know the extent of her mental illness or the traumatic experiences she went through that may have led to it. However, I knew the negative connotations associated with her name once she developed her illness. Therefore, I became conditioned to believe mental illness was negative and always meant the worst. Once I grew up, I understood her trauma and how much support and outreach from her community could mean as she dealt with these issues.
Culture defines who we are as a society. It determines how we respond to social contexts and how we perceive certain things in society. How we perceive illness and stigmatize mental health can have large significant impacts on support for individuals of a particular cultural and community. If we understand mental illness as any other ailment, we shift our views and attitudes to see that person as needing the resources and support to seek proper help and treatment. Mental illness in that sense is no longer seen as taboo, preventing people from suffering the discrimination and stigmatization of mental health. Understanding and normalizing mental illnesses can create better outcomes for those suffering from it. Whether that illness be temporary or permanent, as we advocate for resources and continue to de-stigmatize mental illness, the taboos once seen across many cultures start to shift as we seek to truly understand and support each other.
Blog Post by Nathan Delacth