Recognizing that you have a mental health disorder can be difficult to accept. It’s a whole new part of life that you have to navigate, and a challenge that some people will never have to face. Medications, therapy, the feeling of being alone, and battles inside your brain. But perhaps the most difficult part of having a mental health condition for many people is the stigma attached to it.
What is a stigma? Merriam-Webster defines a stigma as, “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” Akin to stereotypes, although usually more negative, stigmas are something that a large population will unfortunately encounter throughout their lives because of their race, culture, mental illness, or other attributes. The idea that individuals are “different” or “freakish” because of how they appear or think is deeply-rooted in most countries around the world. I’d like to share my story, and offer hope to those who may be dealing with a hardship pertaining to mental health, and how to deal with society’s attitude surrounding it.
I’ll always remember the day that I was sitting in class working on a group project, making a chart about character traits for a book we had read. A girl I knew was doing the writing. The few sentences she exchanged with another classmate have stayed with me even after leaving that classroom. It went as follows.
“Sorry guys. I know I’m taking a long time to write this down. I’m just sooooo OCD about things like this, ya know? LOL,” the girl said cooly.
“Don’t be silly. Everyone knows that people with OCD are, like, germaphobes and totally crazy about being neat. Even you aren’t that weird.”
I have OCD.
Those words stung. I didn’t have germ OCD and I wasn’t all that “neat”. My OCD was mainly about intrusive thoughts. But was I crazy? Was I weird? How could I ever tell someone that I have OCD if this seemed to be the social norm? What would they think of me if I told them?
Some people say that, “sticks and stones can hurt my bones, but words cannot compete.” They are wrong. Words can do just as much damage, if not more. The most disappointing part of this stigma is that I will carry it with me forever. I’ll always be a little bit different, and I’ve accepted that. Society is flawed, but we can attempt to change that.
So, now, whenever someone makes a joke about OCD, or casually throws it around as an adjective, I let them know they’re wrong. If I could have rewound to that conversation working with my group that day, I know exactly what I would have said. “Wow. You guys are more uneducated than I thought. Don’t you know that 1 in 50 people have OCD? I wouldn’t throw that around so casually. And you know your beloved Harry Potter books? Well, the writer has it. So, are people with OCD still weird? I think not.”
It is hard, and most people will never understand why it’s wrong to stigmatize and stereotype, but you can try your best to correct them, and teach them. Chances are, they’re going to shut their mouth after you “lay down the law”. I’ve shared my story, and I hope it brought some guidance as to how to handle the judgement that comes with mental health disorders. Don’t let anyone bring you down. Because you matter, and never forget that!