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Have you ever had one of those moments when one bad incident, such as a bad grade, gets totally blown out of proportion? It happens to all of us. The only difference between a stray worry and a mental illness is in how frequent these distortions happen, and how much they affect our daily lives.

Cognitive distortions are a part of being human. They include, for example:

  • All-or-Nothing Thinking: You see things in black and white categories. If your performance falls short of perfect, you see yourself as a total failure.
  • Jumping to conclusions: You make a negative interpretation even though there are no definite facts that convincingly support your conclusions.
  • Magnification (catastrophizing) or Minimization: You exaggerate the important of things (i.e. your own goof-up, someone else’s achievement), or inappropriately shrink things (i.e. your qualities, other’s imperfections).
  • Should Statements: You try to motivate yourself with guilt.

And many more negative thoughts that cross our minds every day. Everyone over-analyzes and feels worried about events outside of their control. Most of time, these anxieties can easily be brushed off or put to rest with a distraction, and our lives continue unaffected. However, when these distortions are unceasing and crippling, a mental disorder develops, and can lead to feelings of sadness, inadequacy, and hopelessness. Once these feelings are all-consuming, it can be hard to trace the overwhelming black clouds of emotions back to coherent thoughts, but at the root, all feelings are founded in thinking.

Mental disorders are termed “mental” for a reason, and yet many people still see these illnesses as emotional. Depression is not an extension of sadness; it is an extension of thinking. This is why it is impossible for someone who is clinically depressed to “be happy”; the root of the problem is not in our feelings.

“Don’t let your emotions rule you. You can’t just follow your heart; you have to listen to your head. Use your brain to reign your feelings in.”

That often-heard mantra of putting thoughts before emotions will be the ruin of our society. Mental disorders are more prevalent than ever and it is because we are constantly overstimulated and thinking too much. Using our heads too much, losing the ability to reign in thoughts, causes the dark feeling termed “depression,” not the other way around. Stopping emotions does nothing if the thoughts live on.

Mental illness affects everyone, regardless of age, popularity, culture, or income. 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime. (CMHA). The services and education systems currently in place to confront this are immensely and dangerously lacking. With private counselling services offered at $100 an hour and public services with year-long wait-lists, it is near impossible to get immediate long-term therapeutic help (as opposed to medication) without being suicidal. This is a problem that must be recognized and treated as seriously as any other sickness, as it can have drastic consequences on daily functioning, overall health and wellness, social relationships, and take tolls on surrounding loved ones.

Mental illness is not an emotional exaggeration. It’s not a cry for attention; it’s a cry for help and understanding, and can only get better with a strong and respectful support system. It’s time we put aside these social stigmas and understand it as such.