I’ve lived with mental illness for ten years now. Throughout that time I’ve become acutely aware of the myriad ways in which our culture treats those who have mental illness.
It seems that, especially this year there isn’t a week or a month that goes by without some kind of tragedy. Whether it’s a gun-toting killer entering a school or a terrorist attack there’s always the subtext after something like that that the perpetrator was unstable.
Mental illness is an all too convenient scapegoat for labeling people who do heinous acts and while it’s true that they may have some sort of chemical imbalance, this narrative which plays itself out across media outlets goes too far in suggesting that all people with mental illness are dangerous and unstable. It’s a sad story to have to live with when the majority of people with major mental illnesses are more likely to be victims of violent crime then perpetrators.
The truth is, this stigma is everywhere, it’s in the words that we use to describe the feverish impulses of ex-partners and its in the words that we use to describe behavior that is just even slightly outside the normal scope of accepted discourse.
If you have a major mental illness you’ve been subject to this classification probably more times than you care to admit. We’ve all been subject at one time or another to the ignorance of unaware parties who equate words associated with mental illness to danger and instability.
There are several things you can do about the stigma though which will help educate and inform those around you who have no concept of the complications of dealing with a mental illness.
First, feel free to set them straight. This is best accomplished by citing facts about the prevalence of mental illness and the notion that we suffer. Being honest about how you feel a lot of the time can give a person insight into what it’s like to deal with a major mental illness and knowing basic facts that combat those misconceptions can go a long way in eliminating the pain of living with the label of crazy.
The fact is, at some point in their lives one quarter of the population with deal with some form of mental illness whether it’s depression or anxiety or something worse like schizophrenia. We are not alone in dealing with complications and if you can show that to the person you’re talking to it will go far in supplanting the idea that we’re all just trying to live our best lives without the overbearing notion that we’re unhinged and dangerous.
Be honest in how you speak and most of the time you’ll be able to get your point across.
Another more risky way of dealing with the stigma is to joke about it, if you can show that you’re in on the joke it might help to dissuade some of the fear.
If nothing works and they still treat you like garbage, it’s perfectly ok to forget about them. Moving on from people who willfully ignore evidence is something even normal people have to practice when dealing with people who disagree.
Sometimes you can’t change people’s minds and that’s ok. Just know above all else that you are worth compassion regardless of your mental illness.
You’re still a human being and people who don’t respect that aren’t worth your time to begin with.
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