It's time to talk about the way we talk about mental illness
Recently, while online shopping, I came across this shirt. While most pass this off as a harmless pun based off the 2008 hit “Blame It” by Jamie Foxx and T-Pain, I don’t find this much different from the “Eat Less” and “Depression” tees that sparked a huge controversy with Urban Outfitters not too long ago. Anxiety is a disease. It is a disorder that often accompanies depression. It is a disorder that can be genetic, but isn’t always. The bottom line is: when you have anxiety, you have zero control over your parasympathetic nervous system. You have zero say when it comes to entering a state of fight or flight, and it can be terrifying at times.
Having anxiety is like dreaming of falling and jerking yourself awake, but it never truly ends. You may have panic attacks because you’re running two minutes late, you may have panic attacks before going someplace new, you may even have a panic attack simply because you fear having a panic attack. It is not the nervousness you feel when talking to a cute boy for the first time. It is not the shyness you feel when being introduced to someone new. It is heart-racing, gut-wrenching, nauseating panic. It is going to bed with chest pains because your heart is pounding in your chest so hard, you thought you saw your shirt move, which only causes it to worsen because “That’s not normal, is something wrong with me? This is it. This is how it ends. I’ll probably die in my sleep if I go to bed now.” It is not cute. It is not trendy. It is a disease and it does not belong on a shirt. That is mockery, and it’s disrespectful.
Similar attitudes are directed towards other illnesses, such as ADD, OCD, Bipolar Disorder, and Schizophrenia, just to name a few. It isn’t fair for those who struggle, and there aren’t enough people speaking up about it. Nobody questions a man with a broken leg, because they can see the cast. But you know what they can’t see? They can’t see the struggles within us that we try to keep locked away. They can’t see the torment and frustration of being trapped within one’s own mind. When one speaks up about depression, they are adorned with phrases like “It will be OK,” and “Don’t be sad,” but people fail to recognize that people with depression can’t just choose to not feel that way. Their lack of serotonin chooses that for them.
When one opens up about having Bipolar Disorder, it’s “Oh, there’s nothing wrong with a little mood swing,” or “It’s just PMS, honey.” They don’t understand the weight of these things because we live in a world where “seeing is believing,” and even when they can see, when they can read journals or view evidence of self-harm, they don’t want to.. But it’s inconsiderate to ignore other people’s illnesses. By downplaying what people are going through, it fosters stigma, fear and a lack of openness—which may prevent people from getting the help they need.
People are afraid to say things like “therapist” and “mental illness” and “suicide” out loud because of the almost taboo-like way society views them. They are afraid to speak up because they know that they will not be understood by their peers or loved ones. They are afraid to speak out because their illnesses are being made light of. They’re being put on t-shirts and made punchlines at the end of jokes that really aren’t funny. In turn, people are suffering in silence. People are dying.
The problem with mental illness is that those who suffer from it aren’t always taken seriously until it’s too late. We joke about their problem. We put it on T-shirts and use their disorders as memes online. We falsely diagnose ourselves in order to get our point across (for instance, saying “I have ADD,” just because you’re distracted by something other than what you’re supposed to be doing). We playfully use terms that make light of a serious condition. I know people don’t mean harm with their actions, but it’s time we change the conversation and stop mislabeling and misrepresenting mental illness as something joke-worthy, even if we’re doing it unintentionally. People with mental illness are suffering and we need to acknowledge their pain, not use it to sell T-shirts.
Chrislynn Collins is an undergrad at the University of North Texas. When she’s not binge-watching old episodes of Dexter or One Tree Hill, she’s usually binge-watching makeup tutorials on YouTube. She considers herself an advocate for mental illness, as well as anti-bullying. She believes the world needs more positivity in it. Being a big sister is her favorite thing in the world.