I've been among those people who have hit the like button on memes which say stuff like "Would you tell a person with cancer to get over it, and just try harder to get the cancer out of their system?" because it gave me a sense of validation. Such posts, while completely inaccurate, do help people take mental health seriously. In a world where people struggle to get others to acknowledge the reality of their condition, this is, of course, much needed. However, it isn't an accurate analogy to make.
For example, well-meaning people often try to overcompensate and say that mental illnesses are just like any other illness. This isn't true, because mental illness results in behavioural changes that affect aspects of our life that physical illnesses don't come close to touching. Those who nobly equate physical and mental illnesses, despite their surface acceptance of the condition, do so because they can't see it as unproblematic without equating it with some other "normal" (read: physical) disease. The say of allopathic medicine, and the comparative "prestige" of physical illnesses is what causes this.
While no one is denying the fact that mental illnesses do have physiological symptoms, it is a gross oversimplification to equate them with physical illnesses, in a bid to make them more acceptable. The truth is, society doesn't see the two in the same vein, and even those who suffer from them can't perceive them as equally serious which results in living in denial, because it isn't tangible. Mainstream medical science-which people take more seriously than psychology-- is still ineffective in diagnosing it, making them beyond the purview of standard lab test techniques.
So, people try to fix this gaping hole in what we know, by attributing the knowledge we already have about better-known illnesses here, permanently impairing our understanding of mental health. Much like foolishly searching the universe for aliens who look just like us because we are the only kind of life-form familiar to us, this habit of saying "Depression is just like diabetes", to remove the shame from the word "depression," is futile.
Why can't we just stop shaming the depressed by calling depression what it is, instead of clothing it in the more acceptable garb of a physical illness? This stigma also sets mental illness apart, as do other social causes and effects.
Does diabetes make you distance yourself from loved ones? Does diabetes make you lose faith in yourself, make you question your future, and make you lose the will to live? Diabetes doesn't dictate your very being. Anyone who has ever suffered from a mental illness knows that it takes over who they are; a person with depression becomes their disease. A diabetic's inability to consume sugar doesn't ruin their life or relationships to the point that they cannot get out of bed, talk to people, or have hope in life.
It's not that mental and physical illnesses cannot be equated because one is graver than the other, but simply because both are different. Not understanding this is convenient for people who want to treat mental illnesses with a pill, neglecting to address the socio-cultural problems which worsen mental health.
As a result, lack of therapy and lack of social reinforcers of positivity prevent recovery, making those with mental illnesses forever dependent on medication, instead of also providing assistance in the form of psychosocial elements. The power of human beings in the matter is neglected.
While mental disorders like schizophrenia are not really curable thus, and need to be controlled with medication, illnesses like depression and anxiety can be cured with long-term therapy, support from family and friends, and medication.
The trouble is, popping a pill is more convenient. It is cheaper than therapy, and easier to do than to expect people to be kinder and more understanding. It is a lot less effort and costs a fraction of the money than going to a therapist for years. Weaning oneself off medication, hoping for the world to be understanding and kind, is not a risk someone with depression can take. If a brain is chemically geared to reacting negatively, then that risk could take a person's life.
Diabetes doesn't do that to someone-no physical illness does. People with mental illnesses are not given the environment and social space necessary to recover. There is no holistic, long-term arrangement that is doable, here. For now, all we have are pills to sedate us.