Why is it that cancer gets a race for the cure, but invisible illnesses like depression don't get the same level of awareness? People just suffer in silence, struggling to get treatment at all, and some of it isn't even helpful.
Worldwide, more people are suffering from mental health disorders than from cancer. According to recent data, 18.1 Million people worldwide are suffering from cancer, while 970 Million people are suffering from mental illness. This means, 53x more people have a mental illness than have cancer.
Is it because people aren't dying horrific deaths from mental illness?
We do need a cure for cancer, but we need a cure for mental illnesses too. And, mental illnesses shouldn't be such a low research priority compared to those suffering from cancer.
People die from suicide due to depression every day. True, suicide is only the 4th leading cause of death worldwide, while cancer is the second leading cause of death. This could be why there is so much more focus on finding a cure for cancer than there is for finding a cure for mental health disorders.
When you look at spending on research, cancer far trumps that for spending on mental health research. Yearly, 193 billion is spent on cancer research, while only 1.6 billion is spent on mental health research. That means, 120x more money is being spent on cancer research vs. mental health treatments.
Could it be because of the stigma against mental health issues that this disparity exists?
According to Harvard Medical School,
Half of all mental illnesses begin to show symptoms by age 14. Children develop anxieties and phobias, which can be warning signs of more severe illnesses. However, stigma surrounds treating mental illness even in children and increases in adulthood. Funding and awareness for childhood and adult cancers are abundant, yet this enthusiasm wanes when it comes to mental illnesses. One bipolar patient noted that when she expressed shame about her diagnosis, her therapist pointed out that she would not feel ashamed of receiving a cancer diagnosis or being diagnosed as a diabetic.
In order to be able to better advocate for the mental health community, we need to first reduce the stigma against mental health. This way, people won't be afraid to come forward to seek treatment for mental health conditions. Those of us in the mental health community need to learn to advocate for ourselves in the same ways that cancer patients do.
The problem is, people with mental health conditions may not have the emotional bandwidth to advocate for themselves. Sometimes, it is hard to even get out of bed in the morning, much less try to face down stereotypes about mental illness on social media, or with friends and family.
However, to find a cure for mental illnesses, we need to insist that more research be done on our debilitating conditions. We don't deserve to suffer in silence, while the medical professional idly stands by and does nothing but provide 'treatments' for our conditions, instead of trying to cure them.
In order to take the first step to advocate for mental health conditions, here are some tips from McLean Hospital on reducing mental health stigma:
Don’t let stigma prevent you from getting the help you deserve. If you need help, contact a licensed professional. Do not be afraid to let others know that you have sought help.
Consider joining a support group. It can be normalizing to talk with others who have the same experiences.
Reach out to people you trust who can help support you through mental health struggles. You may be surprised by how your sharing can help other people open up about their own challenges.
Own your experience. As much as it is safe to do so, be authentic. Speaking up in social situations or on social media can be empowering—for yourself and for others.
Educate yourself on mental health topics. Learn the facts about mental illness. You can develop understanding and compassion for yourself and educate others.
Be mindful of your language. You are not your illness. Use person-first language. For example, instead of saying “I am bipolar,” say “I have bipolar disorder” or “I live with bipolar disorder.”
Let people know the language they use affects attitudes about mental health. If you notice insensitive media coverage, write to the media outlet. If you can’t find the right person to reach out to on their website, you can always reach out to them on social media. Be respectful—many people are not trying to be insensitive. They may just be uninformed.
It can seem like a lot of effort to try to combat the stigma against mental health conditions. However, we do have an uphill battle to get our voices heard. Doing so is our first step in our own fight towards a cure for mental health conditions.
Let me know in the comments if you have any questions that I can answer in a future article. I am always happy to help! Always remember, #mentalhealthmatters