Monday, January 21, 2013


If you know me, or have read this blog at all, you know how I feel about the mental health stigma. Or actually about stigmas in general. Whenever you want to make a generalization about a person, a group of people, a condition, a life situation, or whatever it is, say to yourself - or out loud if you have to - that really annoying yet affective phrase about assuming. You know.... it makes an ass out of "u" and me. Although many some cases it's really just "out of u", the person assuming.

This might sound harsh, but think about it. Have you ever made an assumption about someone only to find out you're embarrassingly wrong? Like asking (or wanting to ask) a person that has gained a lot of weight when they're due, assuming they're pregnant only to find that they're not? Or seeing a guy that looks kind of disheveled an assuming he works some low level job, if any, and finding out he's an esteemed college professor or high level scientific researcher? You get the point . Nobody wants to be that person - because they feel like an ass.

I've addressed mental health stigmas before. And I'll do it again. I'll do it until they go away. Which is probably never, unfortunately, so I'll keep on doing it. Plus, I meet new people every day, and I hope at least one new person reads my blog every time, so it's worth a revisit. I'll try to change it up a bit to address things that have recently been bothering me, and I suspect others with mental health conditions. You'll notice I use a lot of comparison to physical conditions. It's because people tend to understand those better and because, I feel like I can't say it enough, the brain is also a physical organ!

1. Everyone with a mental health condition is not automatically mentally ill.  It makes my stomach turn when I hear people say "mentally ill people should/should not...". Because someone has depression, or anxiety, mood cycling, doesn't mean they're deranged. It very well may mean they have something chemically going on that their health professionals are successfully addressing. End of story.

2. We are not our conditions. Last time you met a new employee at work, were you introduced as "This is Bob Smith, he's an asthmatic"? Unless you really need to know this for purposes of the job (you work in asbestos removal, say) it was probably more like "This is Bob Smith, he works in accounting". He can probably do a perfectly good job in accounting regardless of his asthma. It's not defining him. So don't define people with mental health conditions as "she's bipolar/depressed/etc".

3. Much of the time, our condition is not related to our state of life. Again, it's often a chemical, genetic occurrence. Just because someone has a nice car, big house, good relationship, great job doesn't mean they have no reason to be depressed. Put it in physical terms. Breast cancer has been said to be linked in part to diet and exercise. But there are plenty of people who eat well and exercise daily who get breast cancer. Because nobody told the cancer the rules. Same with mental health conditions. Sure, we may get down when we lose our job/house/relationship but that's because it's the natural thing for anyone, condition or not, to feel.

4. People with mental health conditions can get upset, happy, sad, angry, silly, loving, detached, and every other emotion just like everyone else. If I'm pissed off at you, most of the time it's not because my condition is acting up. It's probably because you're being a jerk. It may be because you're "ass"uming something about me and my condition.

5. If you think you "know" mental health conditions without having one or being very, very close to someone with one, consider this. If you're a guy diagnosed with prostate cancer, how would you feel if a woman said to you, "oh I know exactly what you're going through. My great aunt had breast cancer". Um, what? Exactly. So thinking you can characterize someone with depression because you've had a few bad days or because someone in your office says they get depressed doesn't exactly make sense either.

A final thought for people who still don't get what the stigma feels like. Think of something about you or your life that you are sensitive about. It could be your job, your relationship situation, your family situation, your weight, your height anything. Then think how you'd feel if someone made a blanket, about "your kind". It would probably really hurt. And it might well be grossly untrue about you. So why is it ok to do to others? In fact, why is it ok to let anyone do it to anyone? It's because of this that I keep on writing and keep on trying to fight the stigma. Because otherwise, everyone will keep on doing it. 

No comments:

Post a Comment