By Hannah Azlan
With all the ongoing discussion on mental health, it’s important to note that there is no specific type of person who can have a mental health issue. Recently, my sister got told by a fellow classmate that she was too pretty to have anxiety. This sparked a huge debate about perception within male dominated courses; however, that isn’t the subject of today’s column. Today, we’re talking about mental health.
There’s a marked difference between high-functioning and low-functioning mental illness. It’s the difference between the stereotype of someone admitted to the mental ward, and to someone who hides their mental health issues. There are countless Thought Catalog and Medium essays on mental health issues, and while some of us may disregard the articles on these sites – most of them hold some grain of truth.
High functioning mental illness tend to channel some of their symptoms into their work, while hiding the more severe ones. Low functioning people are dismissed as ‘crazy’ and other derogatory terms, given that their impaired functionality tends to lead to poor decision making and inappropriate actions. This site details some of the differences between the two, and it is true. Many celebrities do have mental illnesses, and they are the epitome of high functioning. We don’t normally see the effects until it’s too late, or they have a public meltdown. For a comprehensive list of traits, see this site.
Malaysians are notorious for making snap judgements, and the prevalence of mental illness is normally swept under the rug. The harsh stigma faced by those who go through this usually leads to people refusing to talk about it or seek help. Most Malaysians are told to suck it up, that they are lacking faith, that they just aren’t strong enough or are possessed by something supernatural. Attempts to talk about it or open up are either dismissed or squashed. It’s no wonder the suicide rate is as is.
In the modern era, where it’s considered ‘cool’ to have a mental illness – those who self-diagnose improperly and claim to have some kind of mental health issue tend to complicate matters and thus, lead to sufferers being dismissed as attention-seeking. Whether we’re looking at the rise of Tumblr culture or how mental health issues are romanticized, both ways lead to disaster.
When you look at media portrayals of mental health issues, they usually focus on that of low-functioning mental illness. Movies like Girl, Interrupted or Black Swan have horrific portrayals. There are other portrayals, like 13 Reasons Why or To The Bone which do show how vulnerable young people are to mental health issues. There are countless books, such as Laurie Halse Anderson’s Speak, which talks about PTSD or Ellen Hopkins’ Impulse, which discusses three teenagers attempting to get out of the hospital by working through the mental health issues that got them admitted. While relatively worthy of a mention, these paint a very biased picture.
Perhaps in the greater scheme of things, it’s important to realize that mental illnesses such as depression exist on a spectrum. Some people choose to hide or internalize their sadness, and that does not mean they aren’t suffering. Mental illness has no face.