COLUMN: Invisible diseases are physical diseases and we need to treat it as such

Nova Uriostegui

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, and this year, Elmhurst College is not shying away from the pink ribbons, free t-shirts, and pink suits. The president of EC was given an opportunity to show his support, and he has not shied away from it, but it begs an important question.

Where was everyone for Mental Health Awareness month?

Does it need to be visible to be considered “physical” and worthy of the same amount of awareness?

Breast cancer kills, and the statistics say that 1 in 8 women will develop some form of breast cancer, but what about the statistic that says 1 in 4 individuals will develop a form of mental illness?

This is not necessarily trying to say that one is worse than the other, but they both are physical ailments that do not necessarily have a cure and can be fatal. They both share a large impact that can even hit close to home for many of you.

Anyone who has had to face these illnesses know that there are ways of stalling the progression or preventing manic episodes such as with chemotherapy and medications, respectively.

It is hard to talk about two physical issues that can have grim outcomes, but mental illness does not seem to be taken quite as seriously by the majority as is cancer or other fatal physical illnesses.

It takes the death of celebrities like Chester Bennington from Linkin Park and Robin Williams for the media to talk about warning signs and phone hotlines, but in a matter of a few days or weeks, it gets quiet again, or at least until the next big news tragedy involving a mentally ill person, such as with mass shootings.

It is not something that just exists in a bubble. More and more people are developing mental illnesses, but without proper education and discussion, many of them are not getting the help they need.

In worst case scenarios such as with James Eagen Holmes (Century 16 Movie Theater  shooter), Adam Lanza (Sandy Hook Elementary school shooter), Eric Harris and Dylan Klebold (Columbine shooters), their mental illnesses played a large part in why they did what they did in these tragedies.  

If their illnesses were caught, discussed, and treated early on, there is a possibility that these historic events would have never happened.

The reality is that mental illness have played a role in tragic events that are a part of American history, but often times the spotlight comes off of the individual and focuses on other things.

If mental illnesses get brushed off on a grand scale, imagine what it is like to try and even talk about it at a smaller scale.

Whether we want to be aware or not, the topic of mental health and illness is still stigmatized. People with illnesses, and we are talking about ALL mental illnesses, have to deal with it alone and behind closed doors.

Often times, trying to find help leads to dead ends that consist of “It’s all in your head”, “Just be happier”, or “It’s just a case of the Mondays”.

Whenever we excuse physically ill people for missing class or work but do not excuse mentally ill people for the same things, we reinforce that an able body is equal to an able mind. Just as there are invisible conditions like diabetes, mental illness should be in the same category.

When someone breaks their leg, we do not blame it on them for not being more careful. When someone is in the hospital for cancer, we do not blame them for it, but when someone cannot physically get out of bed because of their depression, we are so quick to say they are lazy and making excuses.

The notion that mental illness are not as serious as physical conditions needs to end. The idea that a mental illness cannot affect your everyday life needs to end.

We need to start talking about mental health just as much as we talk about cancer. Discussing mental health is the beginning of a chain of reactions that could prevent future tragedies, whether historic or local.

If you came out this month, I hope to see you come May.