“No man is an island entire of itself; every man
is a piece of the continent, a part of the main …
And therefore never send to know for whom
the bell tolls; it tolls for thee.”
– John Donne
We, as human beings, have come a long way. But as children of nature, we cannot deny our primeval roots. Many believe exposure to the “civilized world” can deactivate our brain’s innate hard-wiring. But the human brain, however evolved, is still set to its most primitive default setting. Fear mode.
Undoubtedly, fear has played an important role in our evolution as a species. For better or for worse, fear continues to influence our decisions, attitudes, beliefs and behaviours. Note that rational fears can (when channeled through healthy practices) be used to one’s advantage, improving motivation and resiliency, and promoting fulfillment.
But even rational fears are subject to irrationality. I am not addressing phobias or anxieties, rather I want to draw attention to the dark underbelly of one particular fear – fear of the unknown.
Simply put, human beings fear what they do not understand. Historically, these fears have contributed to rampant intolerance, discrimination and stigma. The past is rife with prejudices targeting race, religion, sexuality, culture, disability and illness.
The brain is the last frontier of the physiological unknown. Despite much progress made on the research front, the causes of mental illness and addiction remain unclear. Perhaps it is the mystery sounding mental health challenges that breeds stigma.
We’re slowly progressing towards societal acceptance of those who struggle with mental health concerns. However, many still find it difficult to dismiss a stigma dating back to the earliest records of mental illness.
Why, after painstaking efforts to encourage acceptance, do we still discriminate against those branded as “different”? What will it take to quell our underlying fears?
When it comes to our fear driven attitudes and beliefs, aversion is our default setting. This doesn’t mean all hope is lost in the campaign against stigma. It means we need to teach people to reset their default settings, and encourage new mental health perspectives.
Mental health education is key to eliminating stigma and removing the mystery surrounding mental illness and addiction. Public opinions are already beginning to shift as iconic figures become increasingly outspoken about mental health issues. Indeed, it’s an exciting time to be a part of the mental health movement.
I quoted the John Donne poem, No Man is an Island, at the beginning of this post for a reason. Because it speaks to the notion of a human connection. The poem emphasizes that, as human beings, we all share a link that bonds us. Regardless of the boundaries and issues that tend to divide us, we are all connected.
Stigma divides us, and conceals the fact that beyond the labels and diagnoses, those living with mental health challenges are human beings. So, perhaps we would all benefit from taking a step back, and looking at the bigger picture. If you look back far enough, we all share the same blood lineage. So let’s treat each other as brothers (and sisters). We’re family…just like the Kardashians.
About Andrew Woods
Having been diagnosed with Schizoaffective disorder and OCD at the age of seventeen (while attending the University of Victoria), my struggle with mental illness has been a full spectrum experience. I have made much progress since my last hospitalization (three and a half years ago). I returned to university, eventually earning a degree in Economics and a diploma in Business Administration. Today, I have aspirations of following a career in writing and communications. Currently, I spend my time as a mental health volunteer, working as a mental health navigator, exhibitor and communications support volunteer.