Would you believe me if I told you about the time I ended up in hospital after having an asthma attack and, instead of helping me, the nurse I saw simply lectured me about how 'I'd regret this one day'. She knew plenty of people who had experienced asthma attacks 'and 30 years down the line, they always regretted choosing to have one'.
Doesn't sound very believable, does it?
Okay, how about the time I felt like I was having a heart attack. In agonising pain, I decided to ring for professional help. When I eventually spoke to an operator, the monotonous voice that greeted me advised that, instead of seeing a medical professional, I should 'go to a local café with friends' or 'watch one of my favourite films'. I mean, it was only a suspected heart attack. Nothing that a bit of Disney can't fix, right?
Sounds ridiculous, doesn't it? Guessing you don't believe that story either?
Well, how about the time that I had really bad food poisoning, and was too ill to go on a night out with friends. Instead of being sympathetic, my friends were all really angry. They blamed me for having food poisoning and accused me of not even trying to get better. They suggested that instead of trying to recover in bed, the quickest way to cure myself would be to 'smile more'.
Now, you're probably reading this, wondering what on earth I'm talking about, wondering what could possibly possess me to make up such stories? I mean, they are just made up stories, right?
Replace 'asthma attack' with 'overdose', replace 'heart attack' with 'feeling suicidal' and replace 'bad food poisoning' with 'depression', and there you have it: just a few examples of how I've been treated over the past year.
And it sucks.
Mental illness sucks. Taking medication daily sucks. Spending half your life at the doctors sucks. Regularly ending up in hospital when you should be enjoying 'the best years of your life' sucks. But, do you know what I find sucks the most? Stigma.
And I'm absolutely sick of it. I'm sick of having to make up excuses about why I can't attend social events because I'm scared that, if I tell the truth, people will think I'm 'trying to get attention'. I'm sick of feeling ashamed every time someone asks me why I'm on temporary leave from my university course because, I'm worried that if I'm truthful about my mental illness, they'll judge me for being 'weak'. It makes me so sick that, even right now, as I write this post, I'm shaking with fear because I'm worried what some of my friends will think when I post a link to this article on my Facebook page.
It's got to stop. Treating mental illness like it's so different to physical illnesses has got to stop. You wouldn't ridicule a cancer patient, calling them 'attention seeking'. I mean, why would you? It's a disgusting thing to do. So why is it okay to call a person with depression 'attention seeking'? You wouldn't tell someone who's had a stroke that the only way they'll get better is if 'they change their frame of mind'. So, why is it okay to use that terminology when speaking to a person with a mental illness?
You know what else has to stop? Treating mental illnesses like they're some kind of hilarious joke.
Just because your mum likes her house tidy, it doesn't mean she's 'OCD'. Just because your lecturer's mood changes over the course of the day, it doesn't mean 'he's so bipolar'. And, just because your ex-boyfriend is angry at you, it doesn't mean 'he's really schizo'.
You may say these things harmlessly. I'm sure you think they're an innocent joke. But, for some of us, they aren't such a funny joke. For some of us, these are very real conditions that negatively affect our lives on a daily basis and, by using these words so carelessly, you're making us the butt of your joke.
As a society, we need to stop shaming people with mental illnesses. Instead of ridiculing them, we need to offer them support, we need to show we care, and we need to encourage them to fight their illness even when things seem bleak.
So the next time you hear about someone with a mental illness, don't instantly label them as 'crazy', don't tell them they 'just need to lighten up' and don't make them feel them feel guilty for something they have no control over. Instead, be kind to them and be there for them. Let them know you're on their side.
Because, quite frankly, battling with your brain on a daily basis is challenging enough without feeling constantly attacked by the stigma that society throws at you.