I am not an expert. I am not a medical professional of any kind. I have no mental health background. I am simply someone who cares about mental health and illness.
While I have always cared about mental health, today I began to see tweets and retweets from ABC’s Nashville actress Aubrey Peeples (“Layla Grant”) and I’m glad she began to send them out to highlight something I feel is very important as honestly, we all should.
I’ve decided to put together a list of ten things I feel we as the public really need to stop doing, just from my own perspective:
1. We need to stop calling people who suffer from any mental illness “crazy.” I really think this is the first step. Even being very young and first hearing about different mental illnesses many years ago, I’ve never been a fan of hearing the term “crazy” when referring to someone with a mental illness. To me, it feels dismissive. It sounds as if people are beyond help when you just call them “crazy” or say they are going or have gone “crazy.” The truth is, there are ways that these people can be helped, but way too often, people hear that someone is “crazy” and they just laugh. It’s not taken seriously at all.
2. We need to stop laughing about it. I have an AMAZING sense of humor. But one thing people fail to understand is that “sense of humor” doesn’t mean you just laugh at everything. It means you have a “sense” of what humor is. Considering the stigma that already comes with having a mental illness, it really doesn’t help matters to laugh or to make jokes about it. I don’t care how lighthearted the jokes are. People who are suffering from any mental illness are very sensitive about it and there’s nothing wrong with that. It doesn’t make them weak; it makes them human. People become very reluctant to share things with you if they feel you are going to laugh at them about it.
3. We need to stop dismissing it just because we don’t fully understand. We all have phones that can access the fantastic world known as the internet. It is full of all kinds of very helpful and valuable information, including the different mental illnesses and just what they are about. So why do people avoid at least trying to learn more? We have all dealt with someone close to us or at least know of someone suffering from some form of mental illness. Rather than just ignoring it because we don’t get it, why not at least TRY to understand? It doesn’t go away just because you don’t get it.
4. We need to stop saying that mental illness sufferers are “weak.” Touching up on what I said in #2, many people have no control over suffering with a mental illness. So why are they viewed as “weak” as if they did have something to do with it? It’s true that sometimes they may contribute to it in some way. But do they always understand the magnitude of what’s happening? Not always. Either way, things don’t get better when you put someone down. Mental health isn’t something that infests and just stays within someone all the time. It CAN be helped. Let’s start with not calling them “weak” when strength is what they need to overcome it.
5. We need to stop pretending it’s “not a real thing.” The court system has sort of contributed to this. What I mean by that is that as soon as someone commits a crime and gets to court, what do most of us say once we hear, “My client would like to plead ‘insanity’ “? Right away, we roll our eyes. Now I understand that it’s very true that a lawyer could be using this defense in a bogus manner. But it also doesn’t help, again, when it’s dismissed as if mental illness is not real. Not understanding it or agreeing with when it is brought up doesn’t make it any less real or mean it doesn’t exist. And think about it like this…everyone’s brains aren’t even on the same level. So why would anyone think that we’re all same mentally? It’s like cars on the road. Many cars look generally similar, but how many times have you seen a very NICE-looking car broken down on the side of the road? Just because it looks nice doesn’t mean that problems don’t exist.
6. We need to stop relegating Post Traumatic Stress Disorder to just the military. I am an Army soldier and have been for more than 18 years. I first heard about PTSD several years ago. Many of us were introduced to it in that same manner, which has led to many people believing that it can ONLY affect the military. That isn’t true. Again, not being an expert, I’m positive it has been around much longer than I’ve known and people were likely talking about it more often also. But these days, I’ve come across quite a few people who believe that only military personnel who deploy to combat zones can suffer from PTSD. While it’s good that this brought it to the forefront, let’s look again at what PTSD stands for: Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. Nothing in there says that it should only affect a military man or woman. It can affect ANYONE. Post means “after.” So after a traumatic event, there you go. It could affect you from a lot of instances than just combat deployments.
7. We need to stop believing that certain mental illnesses can only affect “certain” people. Yes, it’s true that certain factors may contribute more to certain mental illnesses. But this is not something that should be limited to the extent of believing that we can look at someone and tell what mental illness they have or would “likely have. In other words, let’s take schizophrenia for example. This does unfortunately affect a lot of those who suffer with drug abuse. However, they aren’t the ONLY ones. Don’t assume that if a person is on drugs, they’re likely dealing with this or to think that ONLY a person on drugs would suffer with schizophrenia. Again, that is a result of not understanding, so being lazy to save time and at least making the attempt to understand. Wrong answer.
8. We need to stop using the term “retarded.” I can’t stand when people say this, especially casually, because most of the time, it’s not the intended definition and it’s just downright lazy. Retarded means “less advanced in mental, physical, or social development than is usual for one’s age.” So in terms of certain mental illness, yes, “mentally retarded” would be the correct term. However, all mental illnesses, however similar they may seem, may not be that word at all. But when we say something is “retarded” because we don’t like it or that someone is “retarded” because they say or do something crazy, that is minimizing a very real problem. Again, even at a young age, I thought it was odd that the mental disabled kids in our middle were ALL called “retarded” or “retards.” And that’s another thing; a person cannot be a “retard.” Retard is a verb or adjective (“retarded.”) So to call someone a “retard” is completely inaccurate. But let’s respect different mental illnesses as not being the same. God forbid someone groups you into a category with someone else just because you are similar in some ways.
9. We need to stop staring when we see people who are clearly suffering from a mental illness in public. Many of us are not idiots. If you are in public and can see that something doesn’t look right with how someone is behaving or what they are doing, chances are, they may be suffering from a mental illness of some kind. I can’t stand to see people stare. I always feel horrible for someone suffering with some kind of mental illness. Before my family and I moved to Texas, a Waffle House we would often frequent in North Carolina had a customer who was suffering from a mental illness. I’m not sure if it was his father who was with him each time, but they were there at just about the same time every day. I never learned just what he suffered from, but he had a very tough time talking. It always sounded like he was just yelling something incoherent. Several times, I would see people just stare at him. I felt bad for the guy, but I was also annoyed. He looked like a normal person, but people would just stare like they were looking for some “sign” that he should be that way. Some looked in horror. Give me a break. It really should not be that shocking for a grown adult to know that there are people out there with mental illnesses.
10. We need to be here for our friends and family and stop discouraging them from seeking help. As much as I would love to hope that we would all want to be here for everyone, I know that isn’t ideal. But even as friends and family, I often hear people talk about others suffering from mental illnesses in very derogatory ways. Many times, they are told or encouraged to “not say anything” because it will be “embarrassing” or “people will look at them funny.” If support should come from anyone, it should come from friends and/or family. We should NEVER discourage seeking help. That’s what these professionals are here for. Many people out there really rely on friends or family and the last thing they need is for us to dismiss them the way society would. A lot of times, people suffering with mental illnesses are barely comfortable in the first place about seeking help. If a person or people close to them and who supposedly love them are telling them to basically pretend it doesn’t exist, that is very sadly the last hope for many.
I’m sure there are MANY I am missing and if any come to mind, feel free to comment. I’d love to hear about them, as again, I am far from an expert on the subject. I know that you may not be interested in having read this or want to listen to me because of that, but I honestly feel that we as the public need to step it up on OUR ends as far as learning about mental illness and mental health. It’s easy for a collection of doctors or psychiatrists to get together, but if we the people are going to ignore it, then it doesn’t matter. WE are the ones who need to give this more care and concern, and stop relying on the medical professionals. A little bit from us can go a LONG way in helping someone with a mental illness. Education is the first step.
If you are someone suffering from a mental illness of any kind, PLEASE understand that YOU ARE NOT ALONE AND HELP IS AVAILABLE. I am no expert, but if you need help and cannot find it on your own, leave me a comment and I will do my best to help you in any way possible. The military has a ton of support for those suffering with mental illnesses, so if nothing else, I can always ask one of them as far how you can get help in your area and who to talk to.
But please understand, first and foremost…that SOMEONE will care. Don’t give up until you find that person. You’re reading a blog post from one right now. Mental illness is not something you have to just “deal with.” There IS help…please don’t hesitate to use it.
Thanks so much for reading.