Why can’t we take mental illness seriously?

“I’d rather die.”

“Kill me.”

“So triggered.”

“Go kill yourself.”

“I just had like three panic attacks.”

“That’s depressing.”

“I literally couldn’t get out of bed this morning.”

I hear comments like these on a day to day basis at school. Students make them in passing, regarding every experience they have, from disappointing test grades to friend drama. Our culture has integrated once serious verbal signs of mental illness into its slang, making it nearly impossible to identify who actually means what they’re saying. We have turned mental illness into a collective joke, dismissing its complexity and invalidating those who actually suffer from it. Not only is this dangerous for individuals struggling with mental illness, it makes discussing mental health incredibly difficult. Jokes about suicide, anxiety, and depression make these illnesses seem less serious, even fake. Mental illness is already hard to diagnose because it is much more hidden than, for example, a broken bone. Add these insensitive comments, and people battling mental illness have to further prove themselves worthy of the help they need.

This is a challenging problem to solve because people don’t often make these comments to disregard mental illness. Instead, the comments are used for dramatic effect or comedy. However, the fact that mental health is only discussed in a light and superficial way speaks to the way our culture sees the topic as a whole. There is a stigma around mental health in our society, making people who want to talk about it openly and seriously feel embarrassed, ashamed, and often weak. Again, this makes it extremely difficult for people struggling with mental illnesses to get help, or even recognize that they are experiencing something diagnosable. Many will think they are overreacting, or what they are going through is untreatable, ideations often leaving people hopeless and alone.

Changing the way we talk about mental health will not solve all of our problems. For example, resources, such as full-time licensed therapists and in-depth mental health educational programs, need to be more accessible in schools. Nevertheless, we must discuss mental illness in a way that supports those who battle it and validates the concept as a whole. This could be as simple as saying, “I’m really frustrated” instead of “kill me” or “I am super nervous” instead of “I’m having ten panic attacks.” These changes are essential steps towards eradicating the stigma surrounding mental health in our culture.