As mental health week is drawing to a close, I think it’s important to make sure that the dialogue doesn’t run out, or get forgotten in light of other growing issues. Awareness and education is growing, and society is becoming more comfortable opening up about what it means to have a mental illness. Still, I believe that a stigma continues to surround those individuals who are deemed to have such illnesses. How we work to dispel this stigma is all in how we make these issues relatable to the everyday person.
Septimus Warren Smith, a PTSD-stricken veteran from the first World War, struggles through everyday life without receiving the health and care that he needs, believing that his illness is an “appalling crime” that is condemning him “to death by human nature” (Dalloway 96). Labeling mental illness as a crime is purely an absurdity of those times, resulting from a lack of knowledge and an inability to empathize. Even though we now live in a day and age when much more is understood about mental illness, we are still lacking the ability to empathize with the afflicted individuals, which would thereby put ourselves in a position where we can truly help.
The project I asked would be a quest for empathy in schools and colleges across the community. This would be a project where individuals from within the community would hold up a large sign sharing a simple story or experience with their mental health, or how they overcame a problem relating to mental health. Anyone can participate in the movement, whether they deal with problems like seasonal depression or full-fledged anxiety. The goal of letting anyone participate in this project regardless of the severity level of their problems is to show that a wide range of people are affected. By showing the community images of their friends, family, and people they recognize stepping out to talk about their problems, I believe the stigma that people with mental illness are different than us will be broken.
What Septimus lacked was adequate support and empathy from his loved ones, to help him on the journey to recovery. People never bothered to look behind what they thought was madness, because there was a stigma that he was different, an outsider who should be feared. They never bothered to ask what was wrong.
The hashtag I asked will be used as the banner of this movement, to symbolize the power of change that can be effected when people have the courage to step up and ask questions; to educate themselves and continue the dialogue about how we can work together to foster progress.
Woolf, Virginia. Mrs. Dalloway. New York: Harcourt, Brace, 1925. Print.