What if we treated physical ailments the same way we treat mental illness?

By: Jackie Vaillancourt, University of Calgary Distress Centre on Campus Blogger

Recently, I was scrolling through my news feed on Facebook, and came across a really interesting graphic, depicting what it would be like if we discussed mental illnesses the way we discuss physical ailments.

It makes you consider how differently various illnesses are viewed in society.  The cartoon highlights the fact that mental illness, just like physical sickness, such as the common cold, or a broken arm, is not something people “choose” to have happen to them, and are often not under their control.

Of course this cartoon over-exaggerates to make a point, but what is portrayed is exactly how some people are treated by others ~ due to their illness, and the stigma that is present in our society.

Helpful Advice, by Robot Hugs
Helpful Advice, by Robot Hugs

Read those statements again and wherever a physical illness is mentioned, replace it with a mental health condition. Wouldn’t it be terrible if society addressed all mental health concerns that way?

Unfortunately, in many cases, what is written here is not far from the truth.  Unless you have lived the experience of dealing with mental health issues, it can be difficult to relate to someone who is having them, and easy to use phrases like the ones in the comic and not realize how harmful and unhelpful they are.

This graphic shows us that we must be mindful of the language we use, and refrain from judging others. This advice not only pertains to the case of someone suffering from mental illness, but to anyone going through a hard time in life.

Sometimes things spiral out of our control. Sometimes the world just isn’t going to cooperate with you on a given day.  We are only human, and we can be difficult to handle or understand, but the point is, we should always try to understand.

Take the time to recognize how others are feeling and think about how you would like to be treated, if the shoe was on the other foot.

On a more positive note,  I went to hear a speaker who compared his own struggle with mental illness to being bound to a wheelchair, trying desperately to get up a steep hill, and unable to stand on his own.

Sounds horrible, right? However, this speaker went on to say that, when he started to look at this analogy more closely, he noticed something. Almost every wheel chair has handles on the back of it for someone to help push you along.  He then realized that when we are struggling, we fight to try and get over that hill (passed that struggle that we have) on our own. We can begin to feel weak if we cannot handle our situation by ourselves.  Instead, the speaker said, we have to understand that sometimes it’s okay if we allow someone else to steer us, guide us, and relieve our burden, by allowing them to stand behind us, and help us push through the tough times in life.

I love that story, and couldn’t agree more with its message! I urge people going through any kind of difficulty, to reach out and get the help they need! And, to the people around them, know that there is nothing more comforting, in a time of crisis, than to have people who will stand by you, and not see you as broken, but instead, as beautiful, and worthy of love and compassion.

While we as individuals do have to deal with our own problems, at times we need someone to hold our hand, push us up that hill, or tell us we can make it through, and there is no shame in that.