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I was 12 when I first realized how stigmatized mental illness and seeking treatment were. In a move which I’m now not proud of, I wrote an essay for a class about how treating people with a little more kindness would solve depression more than any medication would. I was depressed, in part because I was bullied. And since I was 12, no doctor was going to prescribe me anti-depressants, and most therapists were going to assume I was just sad because I was being bullied. So, I was taught that the solution to mental illness was to make bullying go away which can only be done by teaching people that others deserve kindness, and I thought I’d just solved world peace.

Surprisingly I did really well on that essay, even with all my ignorance, but it sparked a conversation between my teacher and me. My teacher’s daughter was on anti-depressants and they helped her manage an otherwise difficult-to-manage mental illness. My teacher spoke with kindness about how mental illness was different for everyone, and how solutions are never quite so one-sided. She told me that she understood where I was coming from, but that it might benefit me to look into mental health treatment outside of the opinions of the adults around me. In a single conversation, my teacher addressed my inherent bias towards mental health, something which has greatly helped me in my own pursuit of treatment.

See, it wasn’t that I was 12 when I developed a bias against treatment for mental health. It had been long with me already because that was – and is – the attitude society holds. But I was 12 when someone asked me to challenge that stigma.

Obviously, I didn’t unlearn it overnight. I lied my way out of therapy and learned to better hide my symptoms: at least until they got too much and I got old enough for people to take me seriously. I got back into therapy in eleventh grade and started on an anti-depressant. I was older and ill enough that my doctor gave her approval with relative ease, but to other people in my life that wasn’t enough. People told me I didn’t need to be on medication because it would change who I was; that medication doesn’t actually help. Most of the time I shut them up with an incredibly fake smile and a, “would you rather I kill myself?” But it still stands that these people (who I trusted enough to talk about treatment and recovery with) had their own biases and beliefs. People who were just as sick as I was believed that seeking treatment was overdramatic and unnecessary. Their own stigmas prevented them from getting help; they believed they weren’t sick enough because society has conditioned us to believe that unless you are physically ill, you are not ill.

You might think that I’m done here, that I’ve said my piece on how our own stigmas prevent us from seeking help, but I’m not done.

The stigmas surrounding mental health disorders, in general, prevent treatment because it’s not just patients who experience them; it’s doctors and professionals too. My treatment was neglected by my psychiatrist because the meds I was prescribed were enough to keep me from killing myself and so I was “okay” now. She did not stick around to see the side effects they caused (memory loss, to be specific), or see how it exasperated my illness. I had a therapist who assumed that all I needed to do to fix myself was develop a healthy routine, never mind the fact that my medications caused extreme fatigue, and I didn’t have the energy to do most things. Because why would mental health professionals actually look at their clients’ unique situations when trying to help them?

Their biases and the stigmas surrounding certain mental illnesses prevented me from receiving adequate treatment when I was actively seeking it out. For some people, that would be enough to stop trying. That would be their sign from the world that everyone is right when they say it’s not that bad.

Mental health stigmas prevent treatment, regardless of if it’s your own or someone else’s. That needs to change.

Kathryn Morton

Wilfrid Laurier '24

Kathryn is a third year language student who spent her first year stumbling through Laurier's financial mathematics program before ultimately changing her major. Yes, she's aware those two have no overlap, we don't talk about that. This is her third year writing for Her Campus Laurier.
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