Across the web, throughout the media, stories are popping up of men and women working to remove the stigma of mental illness. Although the field of psychology and the responses of the general public have come along way, mental illness continues to carry a strong stigma. Mention to a friend or co-worker that you take psychotropic medication, and you’ll likely be judged for it. Our society has a hard time with areas of life it doesn’t understand, and the health of the mind is one of them. In fact, society is so outward focused and centered on instantly gratifying physical needs that the health of the mind and spirit too frequently get ignored. This is especially true if you’re a teenager! Your looks, reputation, and identity are so important at this stage in life! In fact the essential psychological task at this age is to discover your unique sense of self.
For this reason, the Children’s Mental Health of Ontario Canada is in its fourth year of working to remove the taboo of psychological disorders. Each year, they invite youth between the ages of 13 to 25 to submit a video for a contest they call Change the View.
This year, Becca is the winner. She has had a rough – to put it lightly – childhood. Her 16 years have already included homelessness, bullying, and living in various shelters. Eventually she was diagnosed with Tourette’s Syndrome, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), as well as other disorders. With the right diagnoses, she obtained professional mental health assistance, and now she’s feeling empowered to beat the stigma of mental illness. She says in her winning video, “Ask anyone that knows me now. I’m the happiest girl because I know I’m getting the right support and help I need.”
Another organization working to break through the taboo of mental illness is a volunteer based organization with the University of South Florida. They are determined to bring depression out of the dark and begin a new and healthier discussion of depression. Jonathan Rottenberg, founder of the organization, believes that if enough people join the movement and help bring depression out of the dark, he estimates that the taboo of depression and perhaps mental illness in general won’t last long. “With your help,” he wrote, “I give the stigma of depression about another six months to live.”
In her powerful video, Becca reveals her uniqueness. Despite her obvious challenges and history, her creativity and genuine fiery personality shine through. The video is an inspiration to other teens that might be suffering from similar illnesses and who may be feeling victimized by them. Becca’s passion alone is a tool to help break through the stigma of mental illness.
It’s true that most people don’t like to be labeled. Having a label is often the feeling that comes with a psychological diagnosis. And in fact, people perpetuate that labeling by referring to others in ways that are belittling, such as “Joe is bipolar”, or in Becca’s case, bullying them. Yet, there is a significant purpose to a diagnosis, whether that’s Major Depressive Disorder, Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorder, or a Substance Addiction. It allows those that are involved in treating that illness to understand the symptoms a teen might be experiencing.
Furthermore, when Becca’s therapist, for instance, communicates with her psychiatrist, and refers to her as an “OCD”, that psychiatrist will automatically be able to interpret her general psychological condition. Although each person is unique in how he or she experiences mental illness, a diagnosis provides a convenient way to refer to your condition and how to treat it. It allows clinicians to quickly recognize the illness you’re struggling with.
That’s the purpose of a diagnosis. It’s not a label; it’s an indicator to how to treat the symptoms a teen might be experiencing. So, “Joe” is not the disorder itself. Instead, “Joe” is a human being with feelings, thoughts, aspirations, dreams, and hopes, just like everyone else. He happens to have a mental illness, and with the right treatment, it can be managed and not become an obstacle to reaching those hopes and dreams. The same is true for Becca. She is not her illness. She is instead a young girl with fire, passion, and purpose.
Barness, S. (May 12, 2014). Teen with Tourette’s Syndrome Sends Powerful Message to Destigmatize Mental Disorders. The Huffington Post. Retrieved on May 19, 2014 from http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2014/05/12/beauty-behind-becca-video_n_5298212.html?utm_hp_ref=teen