I started thinking about all the labels I have; crazy, insane, mentally ill, criminal, disabled, manic depressive, I could probably name a few more. Labels are basically stereotypes, mental molds that we cast for people so we feel separate and safe from them. If we don’t box them in and we allow them to occupy part of what comprises our world, we allow for the possibility that we too could be as they are or that they could also posses some of our human characteristics. If we can keep them as a name, they are less like us and therefore we could never be as they are.
With stereotypes comes stigma and with stigma comes isolation. This isolation helps protect the strong and healthy but it drives those who are different underground. It makes us feel less than we are and feel wrong for having the problems that we do. In the case of mental illness people don’t seek help or those that do feel weak or lesser for their illness. Many suffer in silence and the isolation of stereotypes and stigma only exacerbate the difficulties of mental illness. People with mental illness need support and understanding not labels. Labels are like a sign pinned to your back. Everyone sees the sign. It is physically painless but it is humiliating and degrading. The stigma associated with mental illness is simply fear. People fear the unknown and most know little about mental illness. Many are terrified by the prospect of losing control of their minds or emotions. Most people pride themselves on being rational and in control. To think there are illnesses that can rob you of this is like an alien taking control of your person. What could be worse than losing control of your mind, your sense and will, your emotions and desires?
When we or someone we love becomes mentally ill we become quiet about it. We isolate that person and ourselves. We contain what is fearful. We don’t let the world see a person who is very ill; they are kept on separate wards often locked, so there is little to no understanding of it. As a result all we have are misconceptions which lead to labels and stigma. Just think about how many people consider Schizophrenia to be a splitting of personalities. It has become part of popular culture and is totally ingrained in most people’s minds.
Getting past the fear is the first step and the key to this is knowledge. As more and more people step forward with their illnesses their success stories can only help to alleviate the stigma associated with mental illness.