An open letter to those who have prejudice against the mentally ill…

I see you. You point and whisper. Your words slither through the air and slide down my ears like a poisoned caress. You make horrible comments. You use words like retard and think it perfectly OK to do so. You don’t see the wounds that your words and actions can cause.

OK, I get that it that if you are seeing someone have a meltdown/panic attack and you have never seen this kind of thing happen before, then yes – it can be a scary thing to deal with. But you wouldn’t point and whisper about seeing somebody having an asthma attack, so why should the reaction to meltdown be any different at all?

Do not use words like crazy, insane or psycho to describe yourself. Those words have been used to mock, dehumanise and exclude mentally ill people since their conception and they are not yours to reclaim.

OK, sure, it is human nature to fear what we don’t understand. Since many people don’t understand mental illness, they fear it. Mental illness also carries a stigma (a mark or sign of disgrace), and that stigma prevents a significant number of people from seeking help. People use stigmatizing words like “cuckoo,” “psycho,” “wacko” and “nutso.” Just as we wouldn’t mock someone for having a physical illness, we should not mock someone with a mental illness. The following are examples of some myths and facts:
Myth: Mental illness is caused by a personal weakness.

Fact: A mental illness is not a character flaw. It is an illness having nothing to do with weakness or lack of will-power. People do not choose to become ill.
Myth: Those with a mental illness are violent.

Fact: Those with a mental illness are more often the victims of violence.
Myth: Schizophrenia is split-personality.

Fact: A person with Schizophrenia may have audible hallucinations such as “voices” talking to the individual.
Myth: A person with Depression can just “snap out of it”

Fact: Until the brain chemicals have been balanced or the precipitating factor has been resolved the individual will most likely continue to have the symptoms
Myth: You can’t recover from a mental illness

Fact: With proper treatment and support you can recover

So next time you think it’s cool to mock somebody with a mental illness, I’m here to tell you before you start that it is not OK. You have no idea at all of the damage that you will cause by your ignorance. If you see something that unnerves you then take a step back, walk away and make an effort to try and learn something before you open your neurotypical mouth and cause an immense amount of damage.

Learning about mental illness should be a part of every school’s curriculum. Every school should have a mental health nurse available during school hours – the number of teenagers who have been diagnosed with a mental illness or experienced suicidal ideations in the UK in the last 12 months is one in four. They need support at school. Not ignorance from others.

Likewise adults should be able to access mental health care when at work. They should have the support to be at work if they wish to be there.

You know what stops people from functioning and living their lives? Your ignorance. People have worked so very hard to try and get through the day and then your callous words can rip it all down in a matter of seconds, and the person is back to square one and has to fight through hell to get back there.

So please. The next time you are about to make an off the cuff remark about any aspect of mental illness, don’t. You have no idea who is standing near to you and what they will hear.

Thank you.

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