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Why aren't mental illnesses treated the same as physical illnesses?

Did you know that it is estimated that every 1 in 4 people in England will experience a mental health problem every year?
If this is the case, then why is it that still in 2016 there is a stark difference in the way people with mental illnesses are treated in comparison to those who have physical illnesses?

Take, for example, a situation many of us have faced: feeling too unwell to go to work. This is probably how the conversation would go down with someone feeling physically unwell:

Employee: “Hi, sorry, I’m not feeling very well today. I don’t think I’ll be able to come in.”
Employer: “Oh no, what’s the matter?”
Employee: “I’ve been up all night coughing and I am feeling really bunged up. I just need a day to recover. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Employer: “Alright, I hope you feel better!”

Well… Maybe not. But you get the point. With physical illnesses, because a lot of them have symptoms you can see or hear (for example, someone with a hoarse throat, coughing, being physically in pain etc) they are instantly taken more seriously.

However, because mental illnesses are a silent debilitation, automatically they are shunned and taken less seriously.

Employee: “Hi, sorry, I’m not feeling very well today. I don’t think I’ll be able to come in.”
Employer: “Oh no, what’s the matter?”
Employee: “I’ve been up all night, unable to sleep. I’m just feeling very down today and I have no energy. I need a day to recover. I’ll be back tomorrow.”
Employer: “Have a coffee and come in, we really need you. You can get an early night tonight and catch up on your sleep. See you at 9.”

This leads me to wonder… What would happen if the roles were reversed, and we started treating people with physical illnesses the way we currently treat those with illnesses of the mind?

Would we tell someone with diabetes that they shouldn’t rely on insulin to survive, and that it’s all about thinking positively instead?

Would we ask someone with food poisoning whether they’ve tried just not having food poisoning?

Would we criticise someone in a coma for being in bed for weeks on end and not ‘getting out there’?!

These seem like extreme examples, but it’s sadly all too common that people who feel they are mentally unable to get out of bed for weeks are criticised for doing nothing. People with depression or anxiety or any other mental health issues are told to just ‘think positively’ and that it’s as easy as just not feeling sad anymore.

I’m a 21 year old woman living my life with my mental illnesses waiting at every corner, ready to trip me up. It’s scary thinking you are growing up in a world where the compassion and empathy you need to get by with your mental illnesses just isn’t there, making it much harder to get on with normal, daily tasks when no one tries to understand the struggle that is involved with completing them.

I’ve been told countless times to ‘just cheer up’.

On days where I haven’t been able to make it out of bed, instead of understanding, people have told me that I’ll feel better if I just get up and do something.

Times where I’ve felt particularly anxious, a lot of the time for no real reason, I’ve had people roll their eyes at me and tell me to ‘just chill out’.

If anyone is going to take anything from this post, it would be this: if you are guilty of saying anything like the statements I have mentioned in this post, I want you to know that even if you truly think you are helping someone by getting them up and out of their slump - the chances are you are making them feel a thousand times worse, simply by dismissing their genuine feelings.

Next time you tell a person with depression to ‘cheer up’, think about how pissed off you’d have been last time you were sick with the flu, or food poisoning, or a chest infection, or any kind of illness where you felt down in the dumps, if someone had said to you ‘right, it’s time to get up now. You’ll never get over this illness by sleeping and taking medication. You are exaggerating and attention-seeking. You just can’t be bothered going to work, can you?”

Just a bit more compassion and courtesy would be nice, thank you.

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Image: stock image, text added by me
Statistic taken from MHF web page


  1. Honestly, couldn't have said this better myself. A lot more people in this world need to read this! I praise you for writing such an amazing post! Thank you for sharing!


    1. Thanks Jessica, that means a lot to me! Xx

  2. Mental illness has such a stigma and sadly people don't take it seriously. It can be just as debilitating as a physical illness and should be treated as such xo


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