A group of young people from different backgrounds and with distinct ambitions volunteering during a weekend in a mental health home. All different and all with a lot of fears, questions and preconceived ideas in their heads. For me, mental illness was something I had covered in several classes and had had some contact with during study visits, but it was a subject I had not explored much. The curiosity and fear of failing were enormous, but the urge to be in contact with these people was even greater!

Schizophrenia, depression, bipolarity. Strong words that carry a lot of meaning that we avoid saying. Things that we think only happen to others, to the “crazy” ones. We are on another level, it does not happen to us. We are strong, we withstand it all. Lies, lies, lies. We all get colds, we all can develop an oncological disease, we all have allergies, so keep in mind that all of us and all around us can develop a mental illness. Mental illness exists. These are not sad people, these are not people who do not want to overcome their problems or who do not strive for such. They are sick. They should be seen as all other patients are seen, as people who need help. And it’s not because they have an illness, that they’re no longer able to do things. They deserve to work, have support from their families and access opportunities to do what they like. They deserve, essentially, that we look at them without pity, without thinking they are less than we are. They are people. And in this regard, we are all on the same level and should all have the same opportunities in life.

It was not easy. Many of the people I went with had never had any contact with these realities and it was a big shock for them. Although I have not expressed much of what I was feeling, it is never easy to see people who are asleep because of medication, knowing they have been enclosed for years without receiving visits from family or friends and to hear stories of lives that had everything to continue to develop, but did not due to illness. And illnesses we all have at one stage or another in our lives, this is the message I want to leave you. People are people. People with cancer are people. People with chickenpox are people. And I could continue this enumeration with all the diseases of the world, including mental illnesses. It has been proven scientifically that it exists, so we must become aware of it and end the enormous stigma attached to these people and  mental illnesses in themselves.

A few months after this experience, now in the second semester of this year’s course – occupational therapy, I am having a curricular unit in which I am dealing immensely with issues relating to psychiatry and it’s been an incredible surprise. At first, it was not the area that fascinated me the most, but I’m discovering a whole new world that I did not knew existed. Occupational therapy will enable people with mental illness to fill their lives with what they like to do. In the midst of all the mess and also because of the effects of medication, many people lose their routines and what made their lives meaningful. Once again, the best profession in the world can help them.

I would like to conclude by leaving you some questions. What, after all, is being “crazy”? What is being “normal”? Haven’t we all had days when we are not “normal”? So, who are we to discriminate and exclude someone just by not being “normal”? We all need to understand difference and accept it as part of us. It is the difference that defines us and the day we accept and understand this, the world will take a giant step.


This post was originally written in Portuguese. Click here to read the Portuguese version.