We’ve talked about the culture of fear before, I think it’s time to talk about the culture of mental health. Yes, that exists. It exists because I name it. And we all know as soon as a human names something, it automatically exists beyond a reasonable doubt.
Stigma is a problem. Will anyone deny that? “Let those free of sin cast the first stone”. Of course no one will deny that. What fuels stigma? Well, there are a bunch of different perspectives. Asking someone in the mental health community that is essentially allowing yourself to tunnel down the rabbit-hole without a flashlight. I’ve done that before. It’s not fun. Things attack you from the dark.
I’ve heard several arguments about stigma. They are as follows:
- Others don’t understand. They don’t have the knowledge, so they judge.
- People use mental illnesses as adjectives too often, so people don’t take it seriously. #stopthestigma #you’renotOCD #suicideisn’tfunny #medicationpride
- Mental Illness isn’t given the same respect physical illness is. Not even doctors take it seriously.
- The media portrays us as monsters and murderers. That’s fueling people’s opinions about us! We need to boycott movies like “SPLIT “and that one show everyone is talking about that apparently showed a suicide.
- People see mental illness as weakness, so we get treated differently. It’s not fair, really. We’re not weak, we’re sick, it’s an illness.
A breath of fresh air. Breathe it in. Take it in for a moment, all these arguments, and let them fester in your head for a bit, flow through your blood, influence your thoughts, control your mind, plant a chip in your brain, and signal the government to bomb your house with a drone.
I think everyone has a valid point from their perspective. Everyone experiences the effects of stigma differently, and those experiences will influence (in a mind-controlling evil government way, of course) how someone will define stigma and its causes. I also think stigma is a major contributor to what I’ve called the “Culture Of Mental Health”.
Because stigma happens on both ends. Outsiders might not understand, they might think suicide is funny, or use OCD as an adjective every five seconds and the media may very well assume the word schizophrenia is synonymous to “murdering-murderer” to get some good views, but those of us in the community stigmatize ourselves as well.
I’ll be careful with this. Because I don’t want it taken out of context and I want people to feel attacked.
I’m not blaming us or our experience. But we end up agreeing–or at the very least sending a message–that we’re separated from everyone. We’re sick. We’re abnormal. We’re ill. What that belief does is inadvertently tell others we’ll never be like them, we won’t relate to them and they won’t relate to us. What that does is stigmatize what it really means to go through a mental health experience. It sends a message that control over ourselves is something we don’t have. It gives people the idea that saying something like “that’s your disorder talking” or “you have a chemical imbalance, that’s why you do that” is okay, and takes away our own personal responsibility and sense of independence.
For some, maybe it’s easier to blame these things we call disorders.
As someone who has struggled and still struggles with a long list of mental health thingamabobs, I know what we experience is very real and hard. I’m not saying it’s not. I’m saying we’re looking at it wrong.
I’m saying a brochure about “bipolar disorder” isn’t going to convince your family or your friends or your community that you’re a human who struggles. It’s going to convince them you’re sick, possibly unmanageable, unpredictable, chemically imbalanced, and out of control. They won’t challenge you to achieve what you want in life because maybe what you want in life is out of reach because you’re ill now. If that’s how you would like people to see you, keep up the hashtags, the endless lists of information about every disorder known to man–how many are there now? Is being human a disorder yet? It will be soon enough.
This is the culture of mental health. What happens then is a stigma inside the mental health community. People start comparing “sicknesses”. Suddenly there’s a level of “sick” you have to be to get taken seriously medically and with other peers. Suddenly you need a label.
I say this after the stars in the sky morphed into eyes and sent me a message through the trees I’m still trying to decipher. I had to take pictures of the damn trees, the way they were contorted, because I couldn’t memorize the letters. Imagine me running around about one in the morning doing that. I say this after I’ve spent today in my weekly routine of weighing the pros and cons of living. The pros always outweigh the cons and I always go to sleep and wake up the next day. Next week I’ll weigh it again. And again. And again.
I also say this after being rather unpredictable myself. One day I’m smiles, the next day I’m in the hospital or the ER with veins full of Ativan–at this point my tolerance for it is so high the maximum dosage does nothing to me. One moment I’m fed up and overwhelmed and ready to call it quits, the next moment I’m excited about the future. Sometimes I feel trapped in this cycle because I do take my commitments very seriously and they end up being one reason I don’t give up, break, and lose my mind. That sounds like a good thing, and it probably is. It also keeps me stuck in a painful limbo because there’s no release.
Pros and Cons. They’re about equal in that.
I’d rather be summed up by my qualities and characteristics of my being, by what I accomplish and what I don’t accomplish, by how I handle my struggle, than be summed up in a bunch of terminology in a brochure that thinks it can explain all aspects of me and my struggle the way it explains everyone else’s aspects and struggles. Humanity doesn’t work like that. We’re not robots.
Stigma isn’t something that can be solved by shoving psychology textbooks down the mouths of the public. Stigma is something that’s perpetuated by both sides, unknowingly and knowingly sometimes, and is something that can be lessened the more we–the mental health community–see ourselves as human beings, treat ourselves as human beings, integrate ourselves back into society and demand we be treated as human beings.
But we can’t demand we be treated as human beings while simultaneously summing ourselves up to words in a textbook. Food for thought, once more.