Mental Illness Is More Than Just Depression and Anxiety

Original Article Published on NY Mag

Two scenarios: In one, I tell a friend I’ve been having more panic attacks than normal. She responds with sympathy; even if she’s never experienced anxiety herself, she has a basic understanding of what it means and how it manifests. In the other, I tell the same friend about delusions I’d had in which I thought the traffic lights were sending me secret messages — only to be met by a palpable thud of discomfort.

There’s reason to be cautiously optimistic about the way we’re starting to talk about mental illness — indeed, the fact that people are talking about it at all is an encouraging step forward. Take old Hollywood stars like Clara Bow, diagnosed with schizophrenia later in life, who hid their mental-health problems for fear of becoming “unmarketable”; compare that with the celebrities openly discussing their depression or anxiety now: Catherine Zeta-Jones, Carrie Fisher and Demi Lovato to name just a few.

There are obviously still missteps — if not episodes of glaring offensiveness — when people talk about depression and anxiety. But that’s the thing: When “mental illness” enters the cultural conversation, it’s usually as a synonym for depression or anxiety. The less palatable, more frightening facets of mental illness, like psychosis? They’re still ignored, often leading to those experiencing psychosis to remain silent. And that’s a problem, say researchers who study mental-health stigma, because it could be stopping people with psychosis from getting the treatment they desperately need.

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