If you ask people why they don't talk about their mental health, their silence will be for one reason: fear of their illness being fobbed off by others. The stigma that has been created around mental health illness never originated from the sufferers themselves, but rather their peers telling them that they are being silly, overexaggerating and that they should simple 'get over it'. Because mental health illnesses are invisible in comparison to, say, a broken arm, there is always an air of doubt whenever you start a discussion around it. Supposedly, there is no proof. How can we believe these people when they have nothing to show for their illness? It is this attitude which leads to may sufferers being called attention-seekers, and this approach needs to stop.
Our society needs to ditch the attitude which says that if you cannot see an illness, then it doesn't exist. Statistics show that approximately 1 in 4 people will experience some form of mental health illness over the course of a year; that's one person in your immediate family. Mental health illnesses are horrifically common, so it baffles me why so many are still intimidated into silence out of fear they will be labelled an attention-seeker. It is not OK to treat other people like this. Whatever the illness, belittling people is not the way to approach the subject; we need to learn to be patient, understanding and sympathetic as a society.
Even those who self-harm and have a physical manifestation of their mental health illness will be tragically told that they are probably doing this for attention. Trying to commit suicide is a cry for help, a desperate plea for others to finally notice them. I have trichotillomania and was told that I probably rip eyelashes from my eyelids because I'm jealous of my brother and just wanted more attention from my parents. It all comes back to that same word: ATTENTION. Telling sufferers that their illness isn't valid and that the issue is stemming from their own selfishness is disgusting, and an argument which bears many similarities to victim-blaming.
If someones reaches out for help on Facebook, putting a status saying "I'm feeling really low and depressed, can anyone send me suggestions of what can help me?", I can guarantee that people will be bitching about it and say that they were just writing that publicly for attention. It seems we cannot open up to others, both in person or online (where many people feel safer expressing their emotions through a keyboard), without being shamed for doing so. We reach out for help only to be shut down and told we are being pathetic. What does this achieve? It only serves to humiliate that sufferer into never speaking up about mental health again. It shames them into silence, afraid that they will be called attention-seeking for trying to get help for the illness that is consuming them. What does this silence create? Stigma. A huge section of society too scared to talk about illnesses which claim so many lives every year, just because their peers don't have the patience to listen or the ability to take time to understand.
We are all told that we need to speak up about mental health in order to end this stigma and save those precious lives, whose deaths could so easily be prevented. It's not a case of speaking up- most of us would gladly open up about mental health in order to help both others and ourselves. It's about the attitude which faces us when we do. The ignorant people who scrawl 'ATTENTION-SEEKER' on a huge sticker and slam it to our backs. Teaching people not to shame others about their invisible illness is the way forward in ending the stigma around mental health. Telling others to be more understanding. Reminding them that they never truly know what another person is going through. Insisting that we never brush someone who is reaching out aside just because we don't believe that they are suffering. Mental health sufferers don't ask for their illnesses; who would ever want such a thing? So please stop shaming others who are in this position- it doesn't help anyone.
Do you think this 'attention-seeking' label is the main aspect of the stigma around mental health? I'd love to hear your thoughts and stories.