The bias of mental illness

When I ask a group of participants to think of all the words associated with someone who has mental illness here’s what I get: crazy, looney, nuts, attention seeking, dangerous, violent, etc. Then I ask the question what are words you hear about a cancer survivor. Those words are: hero, warrior, brave, strong, etc.

Then I pose different questions depending on the audience. So think of this scenario…do you believe a person who survives cancer probably experiences a great deal of pain and suffering? Everyone answers “yes.” Followed by, a woman who has post-partum depression (depression after pregnancy), who can’t care for her newly born baby, who carries a tremendous amount of guilt for not being happy during what’s supposed to be a happy time, who has difficulty doing even simple activities like taking a shower…do you think she struggles with a great deal of pain and suffering?

The obvious answer is yes.

You see changing minds about mental illness is really not that difficult when people are presented with facts and information. It’s even more powerful when people hear stories of those who have survived and recovered. It may be a little more difficult to understand because of so much bias and stigma that exists, but we all have the ability to learn when given the opportunity.

My point today is to inspire everyone who can advocate and educate others about mental health to do so. Encourage people to take a workshop, read an article or a book, watch a movie like “A Beautiful Mind.” Embrace what we don’t understand until we finally do understand.

People who I know who live with mental illness are brave warriors. They are strong because they have to be.

If almost every story or character you’ve heard about is a psycho murderer, you’d probably deduce people with mental illness are well…horrible human beings. Really quite the contrary. But most of those stories have not been told.