Let’s talk about what it means to have a mental illness. Mental Illness has stigma written all over it. Let’s work on changing that.

On Quora, I liken having any kind of mental illness to having a chronic medical condition such as diabetes. Diabetes is probably one of the better analogies.

Here’s one of my answers that gives a good parallel to having diabetes:

Why do patients with anxiety get sometimes very strong anti-anxiety medications — why can’t they just handle their emotions and the stresses of everyday life without drugs as a buffer?

This kind of question demonstrates a profound misunderstanding of the difference between a mental health issue and a stress response to everyday life.

It’s a bit like asking this: Why do patients with diabetes get to take very strong insulin—why can’t they just handle their blood sugar increases without drugs as a buffer?

Because, like someone with diabetes, a person with an anxiety disorder does not have the body chemistry that a person without an anxiety disorder does.

There’s Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Panic Disorder, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (with or without panic attacks), specific phobias, agoraphobia, and Social Anxiety Disorder/Social Phobia. This is not a lack of coping strategies with everyday life. We are talking about real chemical imbalances and neurodivergence. Life stress can absolutely contribute to these disorders, but even with excellent coping skills, they still suffer.

I’ve seen people have panic attacks during relaxation. They developed good coping skills, but their mind would not allow any of that. The fear took over, the fight-or-flight response gave them barely a chance, even through doing daily progressive muscle relaxation and meditation. No matter what they did, the panic was always there. Always waiting.

People with anxiety disorders are not coping poorly with everyday life. There are indications that there are neurochemical causes. It’s not just about having stress in life.

Neurotypical people will never understand this and in turn, it makes many of them not only unsympathetic, but vicious about it. They can’t understand why their friend is terrified of going out in public, or introducing themselves to a group. They can’t understand why a person claims they can’t breathe when clearly they are breathing.

Sometimes, they just don’t want to understand. They just don’t care.

That’s fine, too. Just stay out of the person’s way and let them get treated by their doctor.

What’s so bad about taking medication, anyway? If it helps a person function, then let them function with it.

All anti-anxiety medication is just another tool in the arsenal of combating anxiety disorders. Some patients require it. Some do not. Some use it as a last resort, and others use it as their first response. It’s not a buffer. It’s an assistant.

This analogy works for Major Depressive Disorder, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, Bipolar, PTSD, and other related mental illnesses. There is no shame in having diabetes. People get it, they treat it, they manage it, and they move on with their lives. It’s exactly the same when you have a mental health disorder. Treat it, manage it, and move on with your life. You are not broken. You are not weak. You have a condition. That’s it. That’s all it is.

A condition that will play tricks on you, yes, but still a condition.

Another problem with mental illness is fault finding. It is not your fault you developed a condition like this. Some people eat like crap for decades and never develop diabetes. Some people are exposed to traumatic events and never develop a mental illness. Well, bully for their asses. Who gives a shit? Tell them their medal is in the mail and focus on the fact that you do have a condition that needs treatment. You didn’t develop it on purpose. Literally no one wakes up one day and says “oh let’s have PTSD today!” or “hey, let’s try Major Depressive Disorder. Won’t that be fun?”

For a variety of reasons, your brain developed the disorder. It has genetic components, environmental components, etc. You are not to blame. Besides, what does blame actually accomplish? Nothing. Blame hasn’t helped anyone deal with their mental illness. You know what accomplishes things? Action. If you’ve got depression, PTSD, etc., action will help you. See your therapist, check in with your physician, and leave blame right in the garbage where it belongs.

People who want to blame you for your own condition are often woefully ignorant.

Here’s a prime example of the ignorance associated with the stigma of mental illness:

Why do people with schizophrenia always blame their hallucinations on the medical illness, when everybody is entirely responsible for their own actions?

This assumption is incorrect. The hallucinations that people with schizophrenia experience are a symptom of the disorder. It is not a choice. Hallucinations just happen to them, it is not an action. They cannot choose when or where or what they hallucinate.

If you don’t believe me, attempt to force yourself to hallucinate without the help of any kind of outside force (drugs, head injury, sensory deprivation, etc.). It’s not possible.

While I’m thinking this was likely a troll question, it is not uncommon for neurotypicals to actually believe this.

But blame, again, serves no purpose but to shame people into silence. Ignore the detractors. Instead, know that you are doing what you need to do to get well. It is not your job to educate them if you do not feel you have the time or energy to do so.

Just as if you had diabetes or some other physical illness, you would treat it. So it goes with mental illness. There is no shame, no blame, and no game. Do what you need to do to seek relief that helps you be as functional as you can be.

This post is not a substitute for professional medical advice. This post is for general informational purposes only and is not a substitute for professional medical advice. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or (in the United States) 911 immediately. Always seek the advice of your doctor before starting or changing treatment.