I often find myself running into an unwanted, yet necessary explanation as to why I am not currently in my senior year of college. If I had followed the narrow path of graduating in four years, this would be my last semester. It is not.
At nearly 22 years old, when I identify myself as a sophomore, there are a few raised eyebrows and curious faces. Getting into the long-winded explanation is what will certainly drive them away.
“I took some time off for my mental health.” People typically nod along as they picture me experiencing anxiety attacks or depressive symptoms.
“I had a psychotic break when I was 19 years old.” This is not what a random person at a party was expecting when I mentioned mental health.
Almost every time I tell this story, whomever I am conversing with is unaware of what psychosis actually is. Media has constructed anyone yielding a knife or stalking their ex-lover as a “psycho.”
Psychosis is a symptom of mental illness that is often described as a loss of connection with reality. It is accompanied by hallucinations (either visual, auditory, or tactile) and delusions.
A delusion is defined as “a false belief that is firmly maintained in spite of incontrovertible and obvious proof to the contrary and in spite of the fact that other members of the culture do not share the belief.”
As the discussion of mental health becomes more common and many people now identify themselves alongside their diagnosis, the vast majority of mental illnesses and certain identities remain stigmatized.
I have witnessed the discussion of anxiety disorders and depressive disorders almost every day online and in the media, as people share relatable images or articles about the reality of living with these mental illnesses.
The quintessential mentally ill character or figure is a thin, able-bodied, white woman who experiences symptoms of anxiety or depression. While it is certainly necessary to bring awareness to these disorders, other illnesses and disorders receive far less attention. Psychotic disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, addiction disorders, and many other disorders are still heavily stigmatized.
As an Indigenous student who is diagnosed with bipolar disorder and addiction disorder, I never see myself accurately represented in conversations about mental health. People with addiction disorders are often characterized as being a moral failure and that their illness is indicative of their “bad choices.”
In reality, trauma and predisposition to other mental illnesses often cause many people with addiction disorder to self-medicate.
I am often open about my psychotic break because it is many people’s first encounter with the reality of psychosis that is divorced from the media and stigma. There is a pervasive myth that people experiencing psychosis are
violent, when in reality, they are much more likely to experience violence, especially at the hands of police and staff at behavioral hospitals.
In American society, people often associate psychotic disorders with homeless people wandering the streets of cities. They clutch their bags and walk the other direction to avoid crossing paths with a “crazy psycho.”
Many imagine that hallucinations and delusions are evidence that someone is going to act on their psychotic symptoms. They don’t stop to think that maybe someone in their dorm room, a close family member, or someone they just met is just as likely to have suffered from a psychotic episode.
While progress is being made in terms of making mental health activism and discourse more mainstream, there
have not been sufficient efforts to include the many misunderstood mental illnesses and people of marginalized identities that are a very real portion of the population.
Carolann Duro SC ’20 is a sociology major interested in decolonization and digital art. You can find them trying to beat Zelda on the Switch.