Normalization v destigmatization of mental health

Our generation is living through possibly the worst mental health crisis the world has seen. We regularly hear the saying  “normalize mental health,” but are we sure we should be normalizing it to the extent that we have been?

Mental health is defined as a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being, according to Oxford Languages Dictionary. The phrase “normalize mental health” is said to open the discussion of the prominent mental health issues around us. This came about as a popular phrase when many were struggling with their mental well-being during the COVID-19 pandemic, and we unfortunately still see the effects of this crisis today.

In the campaign to normalize mental health issues, teens have come to their own conclusion that, yes, every single teen has issues. Depression, anxiety, and suicidal thoughts are normalized to the point where they are no longer taken seriously. I never go a day without hearing a casual suicide joke.

Someone reading this will surely think, “It’s not that serious.” 

That’s exactly where we go wrong.

When something such as mental health is normalized to the extreme, we become completely desensitized until it is too late. If we were really focused on doing our best to solve the mental health crisis, then we would know that we still need to be sensitive about it. 

Students are constantly in high-pressure environments at MHS with academic prodigies and high expectations around every corner. It is easy to be seen as weak or for others to believe you are overreacting if you struggle with mental health. I find myself only being able to joke about my serious problems for fear of judgment from my peers. It is difficult because there is always someone who “has it worse” than me. Poor mental health is so overly normalized that there seems to be an unspoken agreement to suffer in silence. We are called weak when we are not able to deal with personal issues like some others can.

We need to make it known to the youth that there is nothing wrong with genuinely seeking help. If anything, the act of getting help should be what’s normalized. When my peers make it known that they are “too cool” to get help, I am put in a box, isolated from thinking about reaching out, and in turn, putting others in that same box.

Instead, we should focus on the stigmatization of mental health. The normalization has already made the turnaround process of getting rid of the stigma so much more difficult, adding more stigma for things like reaching out when struggling.

Getting help is nothing to be ashamed of. This is a mental health crisis – of course, there will be an excess of teens that have mental health issues. It is so easy for it to be normal when it is all around you. It is this mindset that creates this stigma. The active normalization of mental health is a direct contributor to the stigma that is so powerful for impressionable youth.

I do think it is important for people to know they are not alone, but we need to get our priorities straight.