Wednesday, May 5, 2010

"The Stigma of Crazy or No I Do Not Bark at Squirrels"

Nuts, Crazy, Insane, Shitzo, Bonkers, Not Quite Right, these are a few of the terms people use to describe people living with mental illness and by no means the only ones there are hundreds if not thousands. No other illness has so many adjectives, don't believe me just try and find other names for Diabetics. So why this? why my condition? Why is there such a stigma on Mental Illness?

 I have felt the sting of the stigma of mental illness, have felt the nervous disconnect the mistrust people have with someone who is living with Mental Illness. It comes in many flavors kinda like a Baskin Robins of Stigmata. We have all seen the severely schizophrenic homeless who wear tattered clothing and have conversations in with the voices that their brains produce in their heads. Some will laugh at them, a lot of people do, others will cross the street to avoid them. Most never try and talk to them like the humans they are.

 Part of the stigma of Mental Illness is that we are all bad people, who are delusional, manipulating not to be trusted. Why is this, I feel it comes from many places so I will list a few for you;

  1. Lack of Knowledge: Most people just plain do not understand Mental Illness and have a problem connecting chemicals in the brain with behavior / mood. There is little info or attention given to crazy, we do not have ribbons, or runs few to no celebrity faces, so we are a unknown and what we do not know scares us.
  2. Media: The media does a poor job of portraying people living with Mental Illness, we are more times than not seen as Murders, Abusive, Thieves, drunks, addicts and general well crazy folk. Show me one character in the media who is living with Mental Illness in a positive way.
  3. Past Experiences; There are lots of us who had a Bipolar parent, spouse or sibling that may have harmed us physically or mentally. The so-called family black sheep who is looked at with pity and or scorn. These folks have a axe to grind with everyone who lives with a mental illness and generally puts everyone in the same straight jacket.
I am very open in my life about my living with Bipolar, I generally tell anyone whom I am getting to know that I am. This is a double edged sword or should I say maybe triple edged because I get three usual responses. the nope stay away, the ok I will let you in but you are still crazy and that scares me, and finally the who cares I like you anyway it is part of who you are.

 There is even  a "Caste System" of socially ok crazy folk and the really sad thing is this caste system is also followed by other mental health patients and professionals . The people who suffer from anxiety disorders or low level OCD and manageable depression are at the top. They are the safe, the harmless, we all feel for someone who has anxiety or depression. Then we move on to the Major Depression & Major anxiety-OCD they make the world a little more uncomfortable. Next on the stigma plate are the scary ones, Bipolar ooooh it is like a boogyman, to some real fucking crazy and they walk among us almost invisible ready to pounce. Then the bottom of the caste system  are the people living with schizophrenia or anti-social disorder they are seen as less than human by both the general public and alot of professionals.

 How do we change this Stigma? I blog about my crazy as personal way to beat it down. I speak about Mental Illness in public and my openness or self outing of my mental illness is also a way of breaking this stigma. But more needs to be done, we need a run or two maybe a walk. we need a ribbon and celebrities to come out of the Crazy Closet and profess their "Mad Pride". Because we are not less then, we are not deserving of discrimination, or to be treated as criminals because we are ill. Would you put a diabetic in dirty hospital ward because he or he stopped taking their insulin? Would you cross the street to avoid someone with MS? Or maybe you would not be friends with someone who had Hypothyroidism. I know these sound silly but it is no different. No one with Mental Illness did anything to contract or bring on their disease it just happened.

  Please join me in working to lessen the Stigma of Mental Illness because it is the right thing to do.


  1. Thanks for sharing this Steven. I engaged in a bit of an online exchange on the need for a serious re branding effort for mental illness. Changing minds (no pun) is a tall order in the best of circumstances let alone when there is so much baggage that goes along with it. Your points about media portrayal are spot on. The criminal or court room dram where a prosecutor or detective reads off a list of the perpetrators medications like they were ingredients for crazy cake. Yeah, NOT helping.

    As for my part I will forward this post to those i come across that I feel will benefit from a little less judgyness and a little more understandyness.

    Thanks again for your insight. Keep fighting. Its a slug fest but well worth it.

  2. Great post about what I prefer to call 'Brain Disease' or 'Brain Illness'. People associate 'mental' with being...well...mental. It has baggage of moral choices to do the wrong thing. Your mind told you to do this, thus YOU decided to do it, THUS you are just doing something bad, end of subject. Just snap out of it. That is how the thinking can unconsciously go with someone judging this sort of thing.

    But with the word 'brain' we understand it is a part of the body. It is a physical process that needs adjusting or needs more evaluation, etc. A person with a kidney disease isn't thought to have made a choice about it. A person with a brain disease didn't either. But a person with a mental illness? That is way to easy to blame on the person themselves.

  3. I'm glad you're finding a way to release your *crazy*. Writing about what's going on and opening yourself up to public eyes will form more desirable alliances in the future than the non-functional "I'm scared of you, so I'm avoiding you" types.

    I know from your tweets yesterday that something was eating away at you; it takes strength to have the comfort to share what's going on. There are more of us out there on the 'border' of varying mental conditions than we probably think!

  4. We all have someone in our lives who live with some form of mental illness, knowingly or unknowingly. Most afflicted are never diagnosed. Being diagnosed and starting to deal with it would start to improve many lives and family situations. Great read.

  5. Thank you everyone for your one reading my blog and two gleeming something from it. I have been "out" as crazy for years now, and I still feel the sting of stigma. But I am driven to lessen it for others and to educate people on it as well.

  6. Well first of all barking at squirrels is perfectly acceptable; they can be a real menace. Seriously, your caste is pretty accurate to my mind. Anyway, good for you for pointing it out and not hiding away from everyone. The more people see the face behind the label, the better. Keep up the good fight, and feel free to let loose on the squirrels.

  7. I agree with Napkin Dad above that we should call it a "brain" illness and not a "mental" illness. There's a false idea in Western medicine and society that the mind and body are separate; they are not, and mental illness has physical manifestations, and physical illness affects the mind. Everyone has been mentally ill in some way, or is close to someone who is or has been. If we all came out of the closet like you have, the stigma would be gone pretty fast, I think.

  8. Thanks Leslie, but it needs to come from others as well. Sadly we are popular or the disease du jour. Just see how many cancer events there are, and I am not knocking them as I have cancer as well just to point out that they are better organized. It is difficult for my community to organize, mainly because of the Stigma, and alot are too ill to get involved.