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Richson: Treat mental illnesses like physical ones

BY BRIANNE RICHSON | NOVEMBER 20, 2014 5:00 AM

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For some college students, skipping class due to feeling ‘under the weather’ comes with a great deal of unease; I mean, you’re sick and too miserable to trudge across campus, but not death bed sick, so how lenient will your professors be? Will some be more understanding than others?

With the on-the-go culture that the college environment promotes, it’s not unreasonable that you probably get sick at least once a semester. When I conveniently came down with mononucleosis just before the home stretch into fall semester finals during my junior year, I didn’t even tell my professors because I figured that as long as I wasn’t projectile vomiting in class, I wouldn’t garner much sympathy. We view sickness as a tangible condition, which is why it is even more difficult for students struggling with mental illness.

Robot Hugs, an online comic art platform, recently tackled just how absurdly society treats mental illness. The comic begins as follows: “I get that you have food poisoning and all, but you have to at least make an effort.” Hugs also brings personal agency into the equation: “Have you tried…you know…not having the flu?” and “It’s like you’re not even trying.”

Just as we can presume that a person who has the flu would prefer to be healthy and get on with life, can’t we presume that a person who suffers from mental illness is doing everything in their power to fight that illness? And that, realistically, to tear out the deep roots of mental illness is perhaps not totally within their control in the first place?

If you take the liberty of visiting the Robot Hugs website and clicking around a bit, you will find that mental illness is a recurring topic in the site’s archives. One October comic entitled ‘Harm Reduction’ brings up often socially taboo topics like self-injury and manic episodes. If learning about mental illness can be boiled down to the accessibility of a comic strip, society really has run out of excuses.

Just as finding a cure for cancer is generally not a burden expected of those who directly suffer from cancer, it is time that we stop expecting the mentally ill to articulate for themselves what their illness is for own understanding. Although it is important that their voices be heard, it is not mandatory that their feelings be justified to anyone other than themselves…rather, the people who need education regarding mental illness are the ones who should also be actively seeking it out.

Mental illness and physical illness are both undeniably treatable, although sometimes in different capacities. It is not realistic for every member of the general public to have a psychologist quality definition of every mental illness under the sun, just as not everyone is a doctor…but that doesn’t mean we can’t work toward equal weighing of all kinds of illness.


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