Take schizophrenia, for instance. What are your thoughts? What images are in your head? These are probably quite inconvenient questions. ‘The strangeness, the dangerousness – these are widely held prejudices’, says psychiatrist Professor Georg Schomerus.

His research at the University of Leipzig Medical Center looks at how society deals with mental illness. And mental illness occurs far more often than many think. According to the Robert Koch Institute, about 19 million adults in Germany are afflicted by some imbalance of the soul.

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Many are ashamed

Mental illness could thus be the most normal thing on earth. However, that is not the case. The many every-day prejudices that those afflicted by mental illness are confronted with are one of the reasons, says Schomerus. Because the stereotypes in many peoples’ head force people with a mental illness into shame.

According to a study Schomerus conducted for the German Federal Ministry of Labour, 65 percent of those questioned said they would be ashamed about a mental illness. But shame only makes a mental illness so much worse than it already is.

But back to schizophrenia: Just how wrong the usual prejudices are, can be seen when you meet up with Anna Kunze. The 25-year-old woman has been living with the diagnosis for the last six years. Because of the many stereotypes about schizophrenics, she had been in doubt for a long time about ever being able to lead a normal life again. But she is doing exactly that. ‘I went to university, and I have a job. I lead a normal life and I am in a happy relationship’, says Kunze.

There are many more like Anna Kunze. Fabian Brüggemann talks about his fear to be seen as weak when he opens up about his depression. Antonia Peters has been living with her obsessive-compulsive disorder to tear out her hair for over 30 years. Quite regularly, she is confronted with the accusation that she is maiming herself.

Kira Siefert used to be so ashamed about her bulimia that she did not even talk to her therapist about it. And Roland Rosinus speaks about the need he used to feel as a policeman to be strong all the time – while being shaken by panic attacks on the job due to an anxiety disorder.

All these people now speak openly about mental illness and show that there is a cure for many a troubled soul. And they show one thing, first and foremost: Mental illness can be what it truly is: absolutely normal.

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