Recently, I came across a post that was a myths vs. facts type deal on mental illness stigma. One of the myths identified was that people with mental illness are disabled. The blogger’s response was that on some days, mental illness could make it harder to work for some people, but there are also people who are really high functioning.
This is just one example, but I think it’s part of a bigger issue that sometimes people will try to dress mental illness up in a fancy dress and put ribbons in its hair to show just how acceptable and normal-ish it is.
I wonder, though, if in the rush to move away from scary crazy person stereotype, the people who are more ill/disabled from their mental illness get shuffled off to the back of the closet. If we try too hard to sanitize mental illness, something important might get lost.
I don’t think it’s intentional or malicious when people are saying mental illness is only kinda sorta maybe sometimes a tiny bit disabling, or when “mental illness,” and God forbid “mentally ill” are taken off the menu and instead it’s all about mental health issues/problems/challenges. I think, though, that there is a level of privilege in that position. And yes, I know the word privilege is a very charged; however, I don’t think it’s the really unwell segment who are trying to put the bows and ribbons on.
There are all kinds of different people out there in the world, including the “normal” folks, the “normal” but crazy in a non-psychiatric way people, the people who have a mental illness but are (mostly) well-ish, the people with moderate illness/disability, the people with severe mental illness/disability, that bat shit crazy “normal” people, and the “violent psycho” stereotype. In that whole big rainbow array of craziness and lack thereof, there’s room for a lot of different people.
But an array of different people is hard to put on an anti-stigma logo. And perhaps the moderately to severely ill/disabled people with mental illness can start to feel a little too close to the crazy person stereotypes for a few people who are well enough to pass as “normal.” If I was close to “normal,” who knows, I might not be so keen on the crazy folk bringing down the mentally ill (sorry, problematically mental healthified) team’s overall batting average.
I’m using ridiculous language because I’m not trying to make this about language. I’m also making generalizations because I don’t think it’s about specific details. I just think there’s an overarching question about how we want to represent ourselves as people living with mental illness. If the push is too far towards representing ourselves as “normal”, those of us getting our asses kicked by mental illness might get left behind.
And yes, challenging stereotypes is good. But if people are pointing to celebrities with great careers as mascots of what living with a mental illness looks like, that isn’t necessarily all that much more accurately representative than the crazy person stereotype.
Somewhere in the middle might be someone with ribbons in her hair to disguise the fact that she hasn’t showered for a while, who’s going to work despite the panic attack she woke up with. And a whole rainbow’s worth of people around her, some struggling less, some struggling more. Perhaps the whole rainbow is the best way to capture who we are (and that’s where the rainbow model comes in).
Have you ever noticed any attempts to sanitize mental illness? Do you think people who are really unwell should be part of the public face of mental illness?
Visit the mental health resource directory page for a collection of lots of great mental health resources.