Editorial: Will You Speak Up?

Blah blah blah. Same old message from the same old guy. Yeah, I get it: He wants to end the mental health stigma. Those with a mental illness should be treated as equals. Very nice.

Tuning Me Out

It’s is rather easy to tune out a message – no matter how critically important it may be – when the message is coming from just one or very few guys. For example, one person repeating his belief ten times to Person X that one must support those in need becomes ineffective fast bordering on boring. However, ten people each saying to Person X their belief that one must support those in need has a chance to make an impression.

This is precisely the realization I recently came to. I can shout the ugly truths and facts about the way those with a mental illness are viewed and treated until I burst a lung, but it won’t have nearly the impact as others joining me in this pursuit of basic civil decency. Not to mention that the message carries less weight from me, someone biased, having myself fought the illness and accompanying stigma.

Facing this reality, I sought out to capture the minds of my peers – both those having confronted mental illness and not – in convincing them to join me in spreading the message that the mental health stigma is criminal. At best, the stigma is leaving people terribly alone in their fight with these horrible illnesses. At worst, it is causing them to refuse to acknowledge their illness with treatment. Thus, they get sicker yet and closer to acting on some of their scary mental illness-driven desires.

Explaining The Problem

As one method of helping my peers envision the stigma, I asked them to imagine having to battle something terrible like cancer. Next, I told them that they must do so without a support system, with their family and friends questioning the legitimacy of their cancer. Maybe you end up deciding that it is best to keep your disease bottled up and refuse chemotherapy. The risk is just too much that your illness will become public to possibly be caught seeing a doctor. Not to mention receiving treatment is tantamount to admitting to yourself that you have this inferiority that is cancer. While this sounds a bit twisted, people are suffering and dying because the mental illness stigma causes very similar scenarios for the mentally ill as those described above with the theoretical person with cancer.

Fight The Stigma With Me

After I gave the explanation of the mental health stigma and inequality in this way or a different manner, I implored my peers: we’re all human beings here; let’s fight this atrocity together. Let’s improve lives.

The reception I received was mortifying. While nobody disagreed that there is a societal problem, those with a mental illness were afraid to speak up. Those without a mental illness were afraid to associate themselves with fighting the stigma for fear that one may possibly suspect they are secretly hiding a mental health concern. (Ironic.) Even asking a handful of my Facebook friends to simply share a post with the link to Refuat Hanefesh’s potentially game-changing Creative Expression Contest was rebuffed. Responses ranged from the good old “I’ll think about it” (I’m sure) to “I don’t really use Facebook” (yes you do) to “Yeah, I’ll post this later” (no you didn’t) to people flat out stating their fear of being seen associated in any way with a mental health cause.

The Hard Questions

Is this the world we want to live in? Can just a few courageous individuals step up to the plate? The way the stigma dies is by so many people with mental illness speaking their truths that society has no choice but to accept us as the equals we are. The way the stigma dies is by those without a mental illness not just being fine with fighting for mental health equality, but feeling that it is their moral obligation to. Maybe breaking this stigma thing doesn’t have to be more complicated than just saying a few words. Will you speak up?

Please click here to read other pieces pertaining to stigma


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