It's 2015. Come over to the cool side and stop stigmatizing people with mental illness. Just like when you sold your tapes, cut off your mullet, and canceled your MySpace account, you need to say goodbye to your stigma, stereotypes and judgment. They are out of style and mean.
We all have to stop, because the consequences of mental illness stigma are devastating.
You might say, "Wait... me? I don't stigmatize people with mental illness! Why am I even reading this right now?" Well, you might be surprised at how our culture and the media's view has seeped into your consciousness in ways you don't even realize. (That sounded creepier than I meant it to) Very kind-hearted friends have said things to me about mental health to "help" that felt like more like a punch in the stomach. Even I need to work on the way I see myself and others who have mental health conditions (Hey, I'm calling myself out here, too!)
Here are nine reasons why you (and I, and every else) need to stop stigmatizing people with mental illness.
1. It makes people resist getting help.
I remember how hard it was to admit that I needed help. When the words finally escaped from my mouth, they were disguised in a lot of, "I thinks" and "maybes." When we make people feel like there is something odd/shameful about struggling with a mental health issue, we make it extremely hard for them to ask for help. When they finally do, often the effects of the illness have already wreaked havoc in their lives. When getting help should have been their first step, it's their last resort. Adding shame, guilt and fear on top of already unbearable emotional pain is the worst thing we can do. When people don't ask for help they continue to suffer and suffering is exhausting. It can lead to suicide.
2. It makes people feel like monsters.
The stigma can cause people with mental illness to feel like scary monsters instead of the awesome human beings that they are; human beings who should be celebrated for their courage and resilience! The media falsely links mental illness with violence and never shows you all the people with mental illness that are doing phenomenal things in this world. Fear gets higher ratings than brilliance so the positive stories aren't shared. The media does such a disservice to those to suffer with mental illness and continually misrepresents who they really are. Studies show that people with mental illness, as a group, are no more violent than the general population. They are more likely to be victims of crimes.
Stop shaming. Shame is poison to the human spirit, both to those who shame and those who internalize shame. Shame, guilt and fear corrode our dreams that need to be nourished to become reality. (Sorry, I get really Indigo Child sometimes)
3. It makes you accidentally hurt people you care about. (And you look uneducated about the topic)
Recently I heard a professional joke, "Someone didn't take their meds this morning!" I was offended because this joke always describes someone acting like a total tool. People who forget to take their medication don't suddenly act like the people you're insulting for acting "crazy." No one jokes about medications for physical problems, because it's not funny. Think of all the people you interact with and care about in your life. Ok, so one out of four of them have a mental illness. You never know who is listening and how your joking or comments affect them. Educate yourself about mental illness before you make hurtful jokes or get on your soapbox. All the cool kids are not stigmatizing anymore, so you don't want to look like a goober. (All the cool kids are also not saying goober... Opps) Anyway, you don't see me writing an article about astronomy because I haven't read any research about it and I'm not an astronomer... Don't preach about what you don't know.
4. It makes people feel alone.
Person 1: (tentatively) Well, I've been struggling with depression.
Person 2: (awkwardly) Oh.. Cheer up! You've got a great life. You shouldn't be (whispered) depressed. Try thinking positive. Well.... I have to get going!
When people don't talk about mental illness (or whisper it like the word itself is dirty and ugly) it makes people feel like it's uncommon and that they are a total anomaly for not being cray-cray happy all the time. It makes them feel like freaks because they can't, "Just smile!" and like they are the only ones who have ever felt this way since the beginning of time. It's isolating, when community and connection are so important in healing.
5. It makes people go off medication.
I heard so many lame comments from people that I trusted (with no medical background) about medication, that I went off of my medication many times. I tried every alternative therapy known to man and gave 100 percent each time, but I always ended up in the same position without the medication. Each time I had to go on again I felt guilty and like a failure. As I mentioned earlier, I'm a hippie-indigo child. I did not want medication! It was a brilliant, compassionate psychiatrist who sat me down and said, "Stop it," who finally changed my life and my attitude. She said it wasn't weak to take medication; it was strong. It wasn't cheating at life by taking it; I was cheating myself and everyone else by continuing how I was. She explained to me intellectually what was going on and why I need it. She changed my life.
6. Mental illness is not just sadness or experiencing negative emotions.
You can't give someone advice about their treatment if you are comparing it to your own sadness. You don't know what it's like to be legally blind because you wear glasses, and you don't know what it's like to be depressed because you've been sad. Yes, some people use diet, exercise and alternative medicine but never shame or act like someone is weak if they need medication. It can have devastating consequences. Before you tell your cousin Mary to go off her meds and try berry smoothies and yoga, think about it. Before you tell your BFF that your friend Joe eliminated gluten (but he has amazing willpower) to cure his depression, think about it. It's inappropriate.
7. It makes people feel weak.
Person 1: I had depression once.. but I was just so strong and cheered myself up with positive thinking and by reading The Secret. You attracted your depression and with strength and being diligent about your thinking you can get over it.
Person 2: I would like to stop talking to you now. Good-bye.
When we shame people for needing to ask for help and get treatment, it makes them feel weak and embarrassed. We need to change our perception of this because it's wrong and super old fashioned. It takes tremendous strength to ask for help and stay with treatment. It takes so much strength to go through the nightmare of figuring out which treatment will work, read magazines in waiting rooms from 1998, tell your story over and over, have people treat you like you're the Hunch Back of Notre Dame, feel like you have a war inside of you, and keep up with the care that goes along with having a chronic illness. It's bad-ass. It's not three little kittens lost their mittens, it's warrior status.
8. It makes people get crappy care.
Resident: (pumped) Hi! Great to meet you. I'll be here about a month so I think we can develop a really solid relationship. I can meet with you for about 5 minutes today to hear your entire history!
Patient: (sarcastically) Super.
Care for people with mental illness should be top-notch (I mean.. wait... we are talking about the brain, here, right?) and it's so bad. It's expensive, crappy or just completely unavailable. We get treated like we're kids, talked to in condescending manners, and treated like we are subhuman. The insurance companies put us on hold and play music from an elevator from the 80s for 45 minutes to then just deny our claims. Their favorite line is, "There's nothing I can do, ma'am/sir!" (Is it in their manual or something?) The only doctor in our network is Dr. McDoesn'TGiveACrap. The psychiatrist sees us for 10 minutes and then expects us to take and stick with medication for the brain without any hesitation. The secretaries tell us nothing is available for three months but we can try the ER. Compassion and humanism are missing, and they are everything.
9. It makes people not know what's wrong with them.
We have to educate kids, teens, and adults about mental illness or they may not even know that what they are going through is common, treatable and has nothing to do with their character, who they are, and all that they can be. When we are silent, they stay suffering and silent. They mirror how we feel about it.
Stop trying to decide for people who they are, what they are capable of, and what their treatment should be. Stop defining them. It's not your job. We have to have compassion for people with mental illness and compassion for ourselves. We have to have compassion for what we don't understand. We need stop stepping on people and see their potential. People are like flowers. They aren't meant to be crushed, they are meant to bloom. I hope you'll join me and: #stopstigma #letshamego