This past week I have been caught up in thinking about the stigma that exists with mental illness. If you are a regular reader you will know this because I have mentioned it in my posts How We Treat Our Mentally Ill and It Has To Matter… Mental Health (Passions Profile Challenge #9). It is likely though that I will keep on mentioning it because the more I read, the more I listen, the more I am disturbed.
Firstly I need to make a point of clarification. In the first post I took a stand about how the Police and the Media treated someone who committed a crime and appeared to be mentally ill, as a result of a drug psychosis. Some people pointed out to me that the man committed a crime. And yes, I totally agree that he committed a crime. That was never an issue for me and I apologise for not being clearer. My issue was in how he was handled and how it was reported.
I got some negative feedback on this subject, not so much on here but on a news site where I made similar comments. That doesn’t worry me and I expected it. Actually my comments got classed as controversial rather than just regular, and I’m kind of pleased about that. Many people voted to disagree with me and many made rather blatant comments that perhaps I deserved to be in the situation of the man’s victim (having his face bitten off). The encouraging thing is though, that there were a few anonymous people who supported what I said, that this man was mentally ill and should have received treatment rather than fatal gun shots.
That’s encouraging because those that commented negatively were really cruel. This man was a drug addict and apparently didn’t deserve to be classed, let alone treated, as human being. It was also a big joke for many, and I’ve seen the story line of zombies and flesh eaters continue throughout week as people joke about this and other news stories. Maybe I don’t have a good sense of humour. I just don’t see anything funny when someone suffers. There were at least two sufferers in this, the victim of the man and the man himself, not to mention their families. Yet the public just carry on laughing. This just becomes a joke on Facebook or some other social media site.
Mental illness is regularly a butt of people’s jokes and I suspect it is because it is the only way some people can handle it. I think people say to themselves “It won’t happen to me” and then carry on laughing and making jokes. It’s much easier that way. It keeps it at a safe distance.
I thought it wouldn’t happen to me. I had no trouble in accepting that other people might have mental illness but I didn’t for one minute think it would be me next, as I wrote in my post Normal. As I have written previously, as a child I came across many people with mental illnesses because of my father’s involvement with them.
And that was perfectly normal to me, until my family used to regularly drive past the local psychiatric hospital on the way home from a day at the beach. We would drive past the high walls of the imposing, brick buildings and I was scared. So much so that even though I was sitting in the backseat between my brothers I would want the car doors locked. I thought the people in those buildings were crazy, dangerous and completely different from us. At 10 years old I was wondering how would the staff of the hospital go to work every day knowing that they would be in danger (in my mind). So even though I knew people with mental illness I couldn’t connect that with those inside the hospital. And perhaps most importantly to this post, I thought they were different me.
Fast forward 36 years and I have often been one of those people, a patient in a psychiatric hospital. Not that particular hospital, as it is now closed (and reopened as a university) but similar places. I’m not so different after all. And the thought that kids might want to feel safer by locking their car doors when passing me? It makes me ashamed that I ever did it, but it also highlights for me what the people who encourage the stigma think of me. I’m crazy, dangerous, completely different, not really human and perhaps better off shot dead.
I think there is a long road ahead to reduce the stigma attached to mental illness. People need to realise somehow that psychiatric patients are (mostly) not dangerous, they are not different, and that it could very well happen to any of us. Whether it’s me, my brother, my neighbour, the woman at work? Any of us. The thing is that we never think anything is going to happen to us, and that’s probably a good thing. Otherwise we would be over-protective of ourselves and unwilling to take risks. But when it becomes an attitude of arrogance, where we think it only happens to people who aren’t as ‘good’ as we are, then we have a problem.
Dare I say it, I’m not convinced any more that the ‘one in four people’ routine that comes out around mental health stigma is enough, simply because it’s too easy to think it will be the other three, and not me. I think somehow it has to become more personal. I know that’s a tough ask, but I think it will be necessary. I think too that the judgement has to go. Having a mental illness isn’t a sign of weakness or failure. It just is.
That said, I’d love to hear what you think? And what did you think of the mentally ill when you were a child?
“People with mental problems are our neighbors. They are members of our congregations, members of our families; they are everywhere in this country. If we ignore their cries for help, we will be continuing to participate in the anguish from which those cries for help come. A problem of this magnitude will not go away. Because it will not go away, and because of our spiritual commitments, we are compelled to take action.”
- Mental Health versus Mental Illness… a Stigma Issue? (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- How We Treat Our Mentally Ill (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- It Has To Matter… Mental Health (Passions Profile Challenge #9) (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Normal (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Infinite Sadness… the book (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- A Man Named Jason… And Why I Cried (infinitesadnessorhope.wordpress.com)
- Actress Glenn Close To Speak At Ottawa Stigma Conference (theepochtimes.com)
- Fact vs. Fiction (bringchange2mind.org)
- There Is No Miami Zombie Apocalypse, Just Mentally Ill People With No Safety Net [Zombies] (jezebel.com)
- You: Removing the Stigma from Mental Illness – PennLive.com (pennlive.com)