This Mental Health Awareness Month, you can really honor those with mental illness by fighting for them.
It’s Mental Health Awareness Month, which means that we acknowledge the struggles and triumphs of those living with mental illnesses. We also mark the passing of those who’ve lost their fight via suicide or overdose; it’s a time where we emphasize the importance of getting help when it’s needed. It’s a time where we talk about the importance of fighting the stigma of mental illness.
However, what if we—in our quest to destigmatize mental illnesses—failed to do so? What if we didn’t destigmatize all mental illness, but only destigmatized one or two mental illnesses? Well, the reality of the matter is that we have done exactly that. We failed to destigmatize all mental illnesses.
When people think of mental illnesses, we usually think of generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) and major depressive disorder (MDD). We’ve seen leaps and strides in the acceptance of people with GAD and MDD, but what about people with mental illnesses that aren’t GAD or MDD? What about people on the schizophrenia spectrum? Or people with Cluster A, B, or C personality disorders? We’ve failed to destigmatize those mental illnesses. Unlike with GAD and MDD, there aren’t too many celebrities coming forward to admit to having borderline personality disorder or schizoaffective disorder. There aren’t people coming forward to say it’s okay to struggle with those.
In fact, the stigma of certain mental illnesses is so powerful that it makes people afraid to have relationships or be around them. That’s certainly true of the “dreaded” Cluster B personality disorder known as borderline personality disorder. Stigma spreads the idea that having a relationship with a borderline is impossible and that recovery from BPD is impossible. People with BPD, histrionic personality disorder (HPD), and narcissistic personality disorder (NPD) can recover from it if they seek recovery.
Another type of stigma necessary to fight is the idea that schizophrenia spectrum people are violent. Whether it’s “Law & Order: SVU” or another TV show or movie, the pop culture image of the schizo-spectrum individual is that of a violent person. The reality of the matter is that most people on the schizophrenia spectrum aren’t violent and are more likely to experience violence. Studies have shown that we’re at higher risk of being the victims of violent and nonviolent crimes, and this is due to ableism. Abusive people view us as easy targets, and society views us as victimizers rather than victims. These are the kinds of stigmas we need to be fighting — this is the kind of information we need to give out.
I personally experience people making jokes about schizoaffective disorder and panic disorder. They think that it’s harmless, but it hurts because there are people who genuinely believe the things in the jokes. They believe that we’re more likely to be mass shooters, like the one in Florida. They ignore that many mass shooters do what they do because of privilege, misogyny, racism, and entitlement. The Florida shooter was rightfully isolated because of his racist actions and ended up trying to get revenge by murdering people. That wasn’t mental illness motivating him, it was cruelty.
There are dozens of mental illnesses, each “weird”, “off-putting”, or otherwise difficult when it comes to understanding the symptoms. Even with these mental illnesses, we can’t afford to allow the stigma attached to them to exist. Why? Because as long as one mental illness is stigmatized, all of them are. You can’t vanquish ableism without vanquishing it in all circumstances. But what can we do? Here are some suggestions as to how you can fight ableism and stigma:
Challenge “jokes” at the expense of the mentally ill:
Although it might seem like jokes are harmless fun, it’s not that simple. Even the little things can reinforce stigma.
Challenge stereotypes of the mentally ill:
Stereotypes of the mentally ill in media and casual conversation reinforce the stigma on many mental illnesses.
Research mental illnesses you may not know about :
This is straightforward, but when armed with facts about mental illnesses you don’t know about, you can do a lot to defeat stigma.
Challenge incorrect statements about mental illnesses:
If you’ve done research on mental illness or you know a statement about mentally ill people to be untrue, challenge it. Education is more than enough on its own to challenge stigma and most people will back down when faced with facts.
There’s a very long history of mentally ill people being abused, hospitalized, and locked up because of misunderstandings or completely false hostile views of us. This Mental Health Awareness Month, you can really honor those with mental illness by fighting for them. It’s the least that you can do for the mentally ill, especially if you’re an abled person in the world.
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