If there is one thing that I have learned about the impact of public perceptions of mental illness on the experience of individuals who suffer from such illnesses it is that statistics can do more harm than good. In fact, turning the suffering of an individual or group of individuals into a quantifiable value can serve to demean the suffering of those who are effected by the illness.
While statistics can serve to help researchers and the general public understand how common (or uncommon) an illness may be in a given population, it can also be extremely damaging, particularly when an illness is common. For example, when I see statistics which indicate that hundreds of thousands of people all over the world have eating disorders I feel as though my experiences with an eating disorder are insignificant. By looking at the issue as a segregated mass, society can forget that each and every one of those numbers represents a human being who is experiencing an unimaginable amount of suffering.
I see value in collecting data in order to understand how widespread an issue may be, particularly when this data is used in order to facilitate a solution to a problem. However, I believe that when we are talking about things like mental illnesses we should focus more on the experiences of the illnesses rather than the numbers. Sure, the sheer number of people who have an eating disorder might be eye opening to people who are not well educated on the illnesses, but would the symptoms of such illnesses not be more effective in communicating the suffering than the statistics? Wouldn’t people empathize more with the human experience of the illness than they would with a number?
I feel as though society has stripped me of my worth and assigned me a number. I am not me, I am just a number. Except that I’m not. I am not a statistic. I am so much more than a number. To sum up my suffering and my experiences by labeling me as one tiny minuscule part of a much much much larger whole is to ignore my suffering altogether.
With that being said, I’ve found that speaking the truth of my experiences has allowed me to free myself of the societal statistic to which I have been categorized. By blogging about my struggles and telling people my story I am able to educate and advocate on behalf of myself and others who have experienced similar circumstances. Speaking out about my illnesses has not only allowed me to fight the stigmatization of the illnesses, it has allowed me to break free of the statistical cage that I was trapped in before.
I am not a number. I am a person.