Mental Illness is Not Uncommon


Written by: Uni Cunningham

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health 

"21% of U.S. adults experienced mental illness in 2020."

That is 52.9 million people or 1 in 5 adults. So you see, mental illness is not uncommon, nor should people with it be treated as an anomaly or freak of nature.

Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash
Photo by Sydney Sims on Unsplash

About six years ago, I broke my ankle and had to wear a cast. People sent cards and messages. They asked what they could do to help. Folks were very supportive, even bringing food occasionally.

When I was hospitalized with a respiratory illness, I received the same outpouring of support as I experienced when I broke my ankle. So why are people with mental illness treated differently during their time of need?

I'm sure stigma plays a role in this.

According to,
"More than half of people with mental illness don't receive help for their disorders. Often, people avoid or delay seeking treatment due to concerns about being treated differently or fears of losing their jobs and livelihood. That's because stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against people with mental illness is still very much a problem."

My Mental Illness

I am a person with bipolar 1, paranoia, and generalized anxiety disorder. Many people that know me and are reading this will be shocked. I've chosen to keep this secret for many years due to being afraid of how others would view me and treat me.

I've lost jobs, careers, friends, family, housing, and educational opportunities because of my illness.

I also have the disposition to want to self-medicate to help with the anxiety and paranoia. So in the past, I've turned to street drugs to try and ease my symptoms. Thankfully I am 14 years clean now.

I am a person with feelings, fears, desires, joy, strength, ambitions, and determination, so do not pity me. Just accept me without any preconceived notions.

For example, due to stigma, when I am struggling with my mental health, I would call into work sick, report a physical illness, or tell my family and friends that I was ill and needed to stay home.

Most of the time, I was struggling with my bipolar or anxiety and didn't want to articulate that because I was afraid I wouldn't be embraced the same.

What if when a person is struggling with their mental illness, we give them the same support we would provide if it were a physical illness? What impact could that have on the mental health field?

What Can You Do?

You could take these 5 Steps:

1. Educate yourself on mental illness, don't listen to society

2. Use person-centered language when talking about people with mental illness

3. Avoid stigmatizing language

4. Find out what resources are in your community for people with mental illness.

5. Talk to your friends and family about what you learn

If we all take the time to do these things, the world would be a much more accepting place for people with mental illness.

We need to start somewhere and it might as well be with each one of us.