Ever since being diagnosed, I cringe at the word “cure” more than anything in my life. So many awful therapists and weird doctors have told me that if my parents just pay them a handsome fee of however many dollars over a few sessions, I’ll be cured. Cured. But after a year and a half of failed medicines and psychiatrists milking money out of my family, all I ask is that no one uses that word around me.
Fast forward to a few days ago when I was sitting in my school’s monthly “virtue discussion” with a crippling migraine and nausea to piggy-back it. My principal gets up to the powerpoint and starts talking about gratitude. Fitting for the time of year, I understand. I won’t even put my whole opinion on what I think about these discussions out here right now, but I’m pretty sure you can figure out how I feel about them. But while I was holding my head in between my legs, trying to steady the world that was tilting under my feet, I heard him say the following words:
“Gratitude will cure anxiety and depression.”
A simple, matter of fact statement. I laughed at first, but as he explained why he believed gratitude was this magic fairly godmother that could just eliminate all mental illnesses, my heart fell into my stomach. The girl who contributed to the discussion next said something along the lines of how people should “just focus on the good things in life and not the anxiety and depression.” I know most of the words are coming from a place of ignorance, and quite frankly that’s the only thing that stopped me from throwing a chair at the projector or letting myself puke in the trashcan at the front of the room.
But it is this sort of dialogue that contributes to the never-leaving stigma around mental illness. It is this vocabulary that forces people who are mentally ill into seclusion and perpetuates negative thoughts about themselves. Anxiety and depression are mental illnesses that stem from chemical imbalances in someone’s brain and situations in their life that contributed to the way their brain operates.
If someone broke their leg, you wouldn’t tell them to just think happy thoughts and they will be fine. No one is going to get up an walk after you say that because guess what? The leg is still broken. The bone might heal, sure, but the person will always have a scar from the cast or the surgery. They’ll have to learn how to walk properly again. They’ll have the memory of how that bone was broken. Thinking happy thoughts might be a distraction, but it certainly isn’t a cure.
It is comments like these that make people with mental illnesses feel guilty about their conditions. These conditions, which they can’t control, run their lives sometimes. Being grateful for the fact that I have a roof over my head doesn’t fill the pit at the bottom of my stomach. And by telling a group of impressionable teenagers that people with mental conditions are essentially playing a victim role and could be cured if they thought happy thoughts, a horrible stigma is just being built upon.
Call me a cynic for not believing in the term “cure”, fine. But it isn’t right to treat mental illness like just a few bad thoughts that come into someone’s head from time to time. Being grateful for things is important, don’t get me wrong, but it won’t cure a clinically diagnosed mental disorder. Sorry to disappoint.