I often reflect on why society is accepting of physiological illnesses such as cancer, but is less forgiving when it comes to an invisible illness. Perhaps I have just answered my own question here, and a section of society struggle to comprehend that which has no visibility. It is therefore imperative as a society we grasp the very simple concept that physical and mental illness can have the same catastrophic consequences.
I recently came across and article where a celebrity had been castigated via social media due to some ostensibly disparaging comments made about mental health. Back in October he had stated we should call mental illness mental strength, to encourage people to be more resilient. My response to that is that the comment makes a sweeping generalisation that everybody responds to adversity in the same way and has the same ability to locate their own coping strategies. If this were the case, myself and every other therapist would be defunct. It offers a naïve and simplistic view of what is an extremely complex issue, with no simple answer. The truth is sometimes we need somebody to listen to us and help us find a little perspective; and seeking that out in the first instance is a form of resilience.
More recently this individual has sparked controversy by stating some celebrities who speak out about mental illness are almost making this a fashion accessory. This is a little more interesting to address as anything which detracts from those who are genuinely affected by mental illness, you could argue is counterproductive. However in the context it was conveyed in, it was very derogatory to anybody affected by mental health, never mind the individual it was aimed at. Celebrities speaking out about their own battles with mental illness can only have a positive effect on individuals within society reticent to disclose about their own struggles. It can convey the sometimes lost message that anybody can be affected by it, irrespective of wealth and fame.
The only way as a society we are going to combat the stigma of mental illness is by having it out there for public discussion. It needs to become something which we embrace, not fear. The unhelpful attitudes around mental illness are the achilles heel of progress and challenging these attitudes needs to be as much of a priority as encouraging people to open up about their mental illness.