Someone with depression is not ‘just sad’. Someone who has anxiety does not just get ‘a little nervous’. We have taken steps forward where mental health is concerned, but people still misunderstand what it really means to have a mental illness. It’s 2018, and we are still battling the stigma that surrounds conditions such as anxiety and depression. The demand for wellbeing services in universities has trebled since 2013, and the suicide rate amongst the student population has increased over the same period, with every 5 in 100,000 students taking their own lives.
As one of the 50,000 students suffering with mental health issues in the UK today, I think it is time to talk about some common misconceptions. Mental health is a disability. It is a disability when people cannot physically bring themselves to walk the short way to university because the paths are busy, and their anxiety is in overdrive. It is a disability when someone has to leave a great night out early because the club is too crowded, and they feel like their lungs are no longer working. It is a disability when someone is unable to leave their bed in the morning because their chest is heavy, and they cannot see any good coming from getting up. Poor mental health can be debilitating.
Just because mental illness is not always as visible, it does not make our disability any less valid than someone who has a physical disability. It’s tiring to be made to feel as if it does not count as a legitimate disability, or as if it isn’t ‘as bad’. Pain and suffering are not relative; just because someone is suffering in a different way does not mean that it is any less damaging. People feel the need to constantly one-up each other: “oh well MY disability” or “oh well MY experience”. However, what people do not realise is that although every experience is different, they are all still relevant. Their emotions and hardships are valid, regardless of whether they stem from physical or mental problems.
Even our laws and legislation, specifically the Equality Act (2010), support this. Mental illness falls under the protected characteristic of Disability. Disability is defined as any physical or mental impairment that has an impact on a person’s ability to carry out day-to-day activities. So why do we still approach mental illness with a “get over it” kind of attitude? Why is it still not treated with the same amount of respect and understanding that physical disabilities are? Maybe, if we tried to understand more, tried to educate ourselves more, the 5 in 100,000 students who did not make it to the end of their university journey, would still be with us.
by Zoya Chishti