Mental health issues affect approximately 450 million people in the world. It seems incredible to me that an estimated 1 in 4 adults in the UK will experience at least one mental health problem. If your school has 1,000 kids, about 300 of them will suffer from a mental illness. That’s 300 kids with depression or anxiety problems, schizophrenia or bipolar, anorexia or bulimia. I could go on.
So which ones are the crazy ones? Do you think you could recognise them? Surely they would be obvious? The ones sitting in the back of the class, rocking back and forth? The ones who wash their hands 10 times before they can go into a classroom? The ones who are talking to the voices in their heads? Has anyone actually seen this? If 300 kids were mentally ill we would notice, right?
I remember the first time I told a friend of mine that I had OCD.
“No you don’t, your mum is just exaggerating, you’re acting normal.”
And what would you define as normal?
My friends and teachers would see me as “eccentric.” They didn’t realise that whenever I walked on the left of someone, rather than the right, I would feel so relieved. They didn’t understand why I got so angry if they forced me to walk on the right hand side of them. They’d laugh and joke around that I was a ‘weirdo’ and I would laugh along. But underneath, my anxiety level was reaching boiling point. No one noticed that these ‘little quirks’ were everyday, internal struggles.
Imagine the 300 people in your school suffering from a mental illness. OK, some of them you would be able to tell. But most of them you wouldn’t notice. The girl laughing in the corner with her friends actually goes home everyday and cries herself to sleep. She wears long sleeves to cover up her cuts and scars. She has depression, but you wouldn’t know. The boy snacking on crisps in the front row will run to the toilet after school and throw up. He’s bulimic, but you wouldn’t know. The girl with the messy desk will clean her teeth later in a perfect ritual, and tap the bedpost a certain number of times before she leaves the house to ensure her family are safe. She’s got obsessive compulsive disorder, but you wouldn’t know.
We need to get this crazy notion out of our head that someone mentally ill is going to ‘act mad.’ Mental health discrimination is a massive problem. It stops people who really need help from getting it. It makes it harder to get a job. Being labelled as mentally ill leads to people acting differently around you. Oh my God, I just said “crazy” around you, can I do that? It can lead to social isolation and losing friends.
Prejudice and discrimination need to stop.
We are the same people, a diagnosis does not change that.