Why Do We Invalidate Our Own Mental Health?
© Illustration by Georgia Bates
The thing that may cause a deeper breakdown than anything else, is the denial of emotions.
The majority of people who suffer from mental illness have experienced some sort of invalidation at one point or another, whether that be from other people or themselves. Ultimately, invalidation from external parties is a microaggression towards people with mental illness, and although often intended to help- most of the time can lead to internal invalidation which is more damaging in the long run. Ignoring emotions is bad for mental health, invalidating them is dangerous.
1 in 6 people suffer from mental health conditions. Of those 1 in 6, only 1 in 8 seek treatment. Unlike physical illnesses, mental illnesses are harder to recognise and often people with mental illnesses are gaslit into self-blame. There is a constant stigma surrounding mental health that the sufferer's lack of personal willpower is to blame, and every internal struggle can be solved by exercise and a positive attitude. At hand, there is little recognition of the long-term dangers that invalidating mental illness can cause- we know how common mental illness is so why as a society do, we continue to quash people’s struggles.
External invalidation is the notion of telling someone who is suffering from a mental illness that their feelings are irrational and illogical. It’s the implication that a teenager can’t be depressed, they are just hormonal. If a woman feels sad then it must be her time of the month. Mental illness is not situational or a scarce attitude problem but is the result of acute cognitive dysfunction. Don’t get me wrong, hormones can impact on mental health but are by no means the absolute cause.
Often invalidations occur from childhood as a result of upbringing and parents. A study in 2003 exploring emotional invalidation in childhood and psychological distress in adulthood are directly linked and developed due to a minimisation of distressing experiences as a child. Invalidation that can lead to breakdown originates in childhood and can have adverse effects. Often, invalidation is perceived by the invalidator as an attempt to help a person move onward from distressing experiences yet in fact does quite the opposite. The constant broaching that maintaining a positive attitude will decipher mental illness as if the person suffering is just burdening themselves with additional, unnecessary stress. The ‘get a grip’ blaze mentality towards people suffering mental illness is inherently dangerous and can only add to the distress and pain of the person suffering.
Why do we invalidate our own mental illnesses?
After a while of other people invalidating your mental illness, it’s only natural that you eventually do it to yourself. The accusative tone from everyone else eventually becomes your own leading to a sense of inferiority to your peers and an acute internal distress. We begin to tell ourselves that our feelings are nonsensical and don’t really matter and that it is best to bottle them up. The art of bottling up and reasoning with yourself is your brain teaching you that your emotions don’t matter. This eventually leads to suppressing and denial of emotions, catalysing in distress and eventually breakdown. It is vital to remember that your emotions are valid. Invalidation anchors the stigma that mental illness is purely situational. A weakness. A flaw in character- and not neurological and psychological dysfunction that can be treated. We know statistically how common mental illnesses are, yet we continue to belittle ourselves and those suffering from it. Tackling your inner demons is not easy and can be painful but it is also vital to living a pleasanter life. On bad days, validation is imperative. Affirming your emotions and understanding that is not your fault helps tackle the negative notions of an unpleasant day.
Keep in mind- the longer mental illness is invalidated, the longer it takes to seek recovery.
There are multiple resources available for those suffering with mental health issues. If you are suffering, please reach out to one of the following helplines/resources: Mind, Samaritans, Rethink Mental Illness. Alternatively, you can use the NHS platform for advice and to arrange assessments.