The negative stigma surrounding mental illnesses including anxiety and depression has negative consequences on society and the person suffering from the disorder. Depression and anxiety in their evolutionary forms are healthy; they are the body’s response to stimuli that the person needs to avoid/deal with in order to get out of an unhealthy situation. From an evolutionary psychology standpoint, anxiety has held the purpose of alerting to some nearby danger such as some nearby predator that could attack and cause injury. The purpose of depression from an evolutionary standpoint has been hypothesized to serve the purpose of signalling to the person that they have some unmet need that needs to be fulfilled in order to preserve their well-being and/or safety. In today’s society, anxiety and depression can manifest themselves in an exaggerated/prolonged form in a person without their choosing, due to some underlying genetic or environmental factor. The symptoms of depression and anxiety can be disordered sleep, heightened emotions (including anger and sadness), low energy, and disordered eating patterns, among others. Many people make the unfortunate error of viewing those who experience uncontrollable tearfulness, inability to sleep or constant panic as weak-minded. This is not the case. These disorders can be traced back to chemical imbalances in the brain, such as low serotonin or dopamine, and are of no fault of the sufferer.
Viewing an anxious or depressed person as weak is an unhealthy judgement. These views that are prevalent in society can increase the person’s likelihood to hide their feelings, leading to self-destructive behaviour in a time when communication and reaching out is so important. I have felt the stigma associated with anxiety, even by those I consider close to me, and it has led me to bottle up my feelings, only to have them unleash later in an unhealthy manner. My solution to this has been to continue reaching out to those who have unconditionally supported me. Having social support is a major benefit in the healing process. Talking and listening to non-judgemental points of view are helpful ways to connect and relate to others.
As well, we need to eliminate the stigma surrounding the use of physician-prescribed medication, be it for sleeping, depression, or anxiety. Medications can accelerate healing and help to manage symptoms when they are used correctly. Counseling is another great way to obtain an objective perspective and an ear when none seem available, and in some mental illnesses such as depression, evidence shows that psychotherapy has even longer lasting effects than medication. Exercise, healthy eating, and meditation can also do wonders. A walk or run in the morning has been shown to be nearly equivalent to taking an antidepressant or anti-anxiety medication.
In my experience, I have had to practice letting go of the stimuli causing my anxiety, which has been mentally abusive relationships. Now I can recognize it was my body’s way of telling me that I was in a toxic relationship and that though getting out was one of the hardest things to do, in the long run, I have been able to find myself again.
If you suffer from anxiety or depression, try to identify the root cause of your suffering. It takes mindfulness, practice, and determination, but it builds strength each time you do something to help yourself. The human mind is inexplicably strong. You don’t have to live a life experiencing ongoing anxiety, depression or insomnia. Help is available.
Mental illness is similar to any other physical disease like high cholesterol; with the right treatment (be it medicinal or lifestyle based), we can all conquer our own mental health.
We as a society need to expel the notion of the stigma of mental health. This can be done through education, increasing awareness, and increasing programs that help those in need.
Written by Sandy