From stigma to sympathy: Challenging how we look at mental illness


Imagine looking online for support from others in regards to your struggles with mental health and being met with more discussions of how people with your mental disorder are toxic life-ruiners. This is the crushing reality for people who live with borderline personality disorder. Trawling through the Internet for mentions of this specific disorder are met with an obscene amount of negativity such as support groups for those raised by parents with (often assumed) borderline personality disorder and discussing how their lives were ruined by them as well as lengthy essays about how you should avoid dating anyone with borderline personality disorder at any cost.

In the past, I’ve been embroiled in debates about how those who commit crimes after losing battles to their mental illness deserve to be stuck in jail, or worse. Recently, I’ve been hearing friends gush about how much they loved the recent video series positing one of YouTube’s infamous Paul brothers as a sociopath, littered with stigmatized views of Cluster B personality disorders straight from the mouth of a therapist. In a university setting, I’ve seen how these therapists come to be, listening to discussions from those studying psychology about how cool and interesting mental illness is with little to no empathy tacked on. I’ve heard that schizophrenics are real life villains and drug addicts are lowlife idiots and on and on and on.

The stigma surrounding mental illness is slowly dissipating — that’s what everyone promises. We hear frequent discussions about depression and anxiety riddled with sympathy and promises that those who struggle with them are not alone, but that’s always where it ends. Not to say that depression and anxiety are not important to put at the forefront — let alone actively discuss — especially as the most common mental ailments affecting people in our society. The issue lies in the lack of representation of other mental health struggles alongside the prominent ones.

To those who have no personal experiences with mental illness based in fact, stigmatized views are the only perception they get. As a result, there’s no sympathy, no “it gets better!” for those who can’t stop drinking or make harmful reckless decisions to experience auditory hallucinations. No effort to reach out, no attempt to relate. At worst, those with mental illness are villainized; at best, they’re off the radar completely.

As a society, we need to make more of an effort to lend both sympathy and our voices to everyone living with mental health struggles, no matter how daunting or downright terrifying these struggles may be. People can’t choose their symptoms, so no one should be able to pick who they advocate for. Buried underneath an ailment that seems hard to handle is, no matter what, a regular person. Next time you think someone’s issues are jarring, imagine how it must feel to be them — dealing with these “scary” qualities and not getting the slightest amount of heart for it.

And, sorry to say it, but quickfire Tweets on #BellLetsTalk day or “you’re beautiful!” post-it notes hidden around campus aren’t going to do anybody any favours, and we all know it. Research mental ailments aside from depression and anxiety — make sure to be informed if you’re going to parade yourself as an advocate for neurodivergent people. When someone starts spouting uninformed opinions about borderline personality disorder or schizophrenia or any other illness or disorder, be there to tell the truth. Even if you don’t know the whole of it, a sympathetic look at the world will do a good job in itself. In short, ensure everyone who may struggle with mental health is kept in the narrative, as long as this narrative is a consistently compassionate one. If we want to stop the stigma around mental illness once and for all, it needs to be all-inclusive.

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