It is time to stop making a persons’ mental illness his or her identity.
We all know that mental health and mental illness is clouded by a societal stigma. If you receive a diagnosis, there is sometimes a judgement or stigma associated with it. Although many of us wish we could #endthestigma immediately, that simply is not possible — these things take time. However, in the meantime we can begin mental health-related conversations and help open people’s minds to the truth about mental health and mental illness. We can educate and inform others.
One topic that frustrates me, and possibly you, about mental health diagnoses is when we have the tendency to directly or indirectly make a person’s diagnosis his or her identity. Yes, your diagnosis may be a part of your identity, but it should never become your entire identity. You are more than your diagnosis.
What I am referring to here are comments such as the following:
“She is bipolar.”
“He is schizophrenic.”
What I am referring to is specifically labeling someone as their mental illness. People are so much more than only their mental illness. Rather than saying, “She is bipolar”, we should strive to say, “She has bipolar disorder” or “She has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder”. By changing our language, we no longer force a person’s diagnosis to become his or her identity. Now, it is simply a part of who they are. It is a diagnosis and nothing more.
Entertain me for a moment and consider this concept. If the same woman who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder discovers that she also has cancer, what would you tell people? Would you say, “She is cancer?”. Nope. You would say, “She has cancer” or “She has been diagnosed with cancer”.
I know that example may not work with every physical illness (i.e. people refer to those diagnosed with diabetes as diabetic), but changing our language towards mental illness can take us one step closing to ending the stigma.
Why is ending the stigma so important?
It is important because if people fear the stigma surrounding a diagnosis, they are less likely to receive the help they need. We do not want people to silently suffer because they fear people will judge them for something they have no control over. Receiving a diagnosis after you have been struggling should be relieving — you finally know what is going on and how to battle it. But a lot of the time, a diagnosis is received with anxiety… anxiety about how people are going to perceive you and what they will say.
We want people to feel safe to talk to someone and receive a mental illness diagnosis. We want people to feel comfortable speaking with a therapist and actually talking about it!
We want mental health and mental illness to be as accepted as physical health and physical illness.