Quick reminder. This month is the Mental Health Awareness Month in the United States. I’m not an American, but that seems like one of those things that are good to have. If you are an American, take the chance of the increased number of talks on the issue to learn more about mental health and illnesses.
On to the main story. I was walking down the streets to meet my friends two nights ago when I walked past a man who was talking out loud to himself. And, despite my own bipolar disorder and experience with schizophrenic episodes, I found myself thinking that the guy was crazy.
And I asked myself the question, out loud, “Do I look like that when I talk to myself?”
The answer is probably a yes. I too, talk to myself in public. Especially when making long trips. It helps stave off my mind from thinking about more dangerous things like anger, or suicide by running into traffic. It’s a really strange experience where I can get legitimately angry or ecstatic, depending on the flow of my own conversation.
I was reading an interesting post by a DJ Jaffe, founder of MentalIllnessPolicy.org that notes that there’s no stigma to a mental illness anymore, just prejudice and discrimination. It’s a slope that I cannot fully go down to, as I have wrote of how stigma still exists in Singapore and how my current lifestyle have garnered significant ire from friends and family. Not to mention my own reaction to the man talking to himself.
In Ferguson, Missouri, the shooting of Michael Brown, an African American, by a white cop, Darren Wilson, eventually escalated and grew into riots around the country. One of the main components of the escalation was Fox News, who repeatedly defended the shootings and have been quoted as saying, “Racism doesn’t exists in America any more, so knock it off.”
To say that there are no stigmas for mental illness any more is a similar step back. As a person living with bipolar disorder, I have been told many times that I should not use it as an excuse to be lazy, even though I’m not, and almost the entire Singapore Armed Forces have the unspoken agreement that people who declare mental illnesses are malingerers. If having a mental illness is associated with laziness, malingering, and being weird is not a stigma, I do not know what is.
Jaffe has experience with the mentally ill before. He openly admits his sister is schizophrenic. But having people you know and you being mentally ill are two completely different experience.
When I tell people I’m bipolar, most will react with “Oh, so you just have mood swings. Everyone has that.”
That is stigmatizing bipolar as just being ‘mood swings’ or schizophrenia as just being ‘crazy’. It negatively undermines or impacts the severity of the illnesses themselves.
I am very open about my experience with mental illness and am willing to talk about my life with it on a personal level. Some of my friends have even openly defended me. But at the same time, some of them are willing to play the ‘I have experience’ card. ‘I have depression once’ or ‘I know someone who’s mentally ill’ are all common saying, which is almost always followed by, “So you should not be doing this or that.”
That is stigmatizing and mentalism. Racism, for metal illness. It’s a real thing. Look it up. Like how the mainly white newscasters at Fox do not have the experience of a black man, a person who has never fought with mental illness should not speak of the experience of either stigma, or mentalism. Because fighting with and fighting for are two completely separate things. You can defend us and you can treat us like regular human being. But the moment you speak for our daily experience, your meaning is entirely different.
(Note: For more links on resources, blogs or articles about mental health and services, visit the Links and Resources page.)