There is no comparison to be made when it comes to the actual symptoms of mental illnesses. You can’t put schizophrenia, depression, mania, or anxiety side by side and say which one is worse. You can’t do that, because all of these illnesses or symptoms look different in everyone who suffers from them. No two people have the exact same experience with a mental illness. For some people depression is the worst illness to have, and for others it is schizophrenia.
I wish that more people understood the paragraph that I just typed, because it is true, but it is far from common knowledge. I often hear people say that schizophrenia is the most severe of the mental illnesses (I have said it myself), but I no longer believe that is true. Many people with bipolar disorder have the same psychotic symptoms that many people with schizophrenia have. You can become psychotic when manic or depressed, psychosis is not exclusive to schizophrenia. Anxiety can keep people from socializing in the same way that schizophrenia can. People’s lives, and their freedom to live and enjoy them, can be significantly reduced by any mental illness.
I often see people in their twenties and early thirties writing openly about and talking about their anxiety or depression. The same is not true for their counterparts with schizophrenia. Many people with schizophrenia live in the closet. People with anxiety disorders are not portrayed by popular television or by the nightly news as mass murders. When you see movies about psych wards it isn’t people who are depressed or anxious that you see screaming, or acting in a bizarre fashion. It is people with schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is still the most stigmatized of all of the mental illnesses and people who suffer from it have to be concerned about who they share the information about their diagnosis with.
I recently asked a friend of mine, who happens to be a mental health professional, what was the question he most thought people wanted to know about those of us with schizophrenia, and he replied, “Are you dangerous? Will you hurt me?” Those aren’t the questions people think of asking those with an anxiety disorder or depression.
I am really happy that mental health has become a national conversation and that most young people suffering from depression or anxiety or bipolar disorder do not feel shame about their diagnosis. After all, it is ridiculous to humiliate, shame, discriminate, make fun of, demonize, or dehumanize someone, because they have a medical condition like thousands of other medical conditions.
I’m glad we have made progress, and that people’s lives are better for it, and that many people have the self-confidence to speak up and talk about their experiences. I only wish that the knowledge of schizophrenia would catch up to the rest of the mental health field. I’m so tired of being seen or thought of in a way that doesn’t resemble my life at all.