Danny Baker would like to remind you that mental illness is minimally spoken about, so a lot of people haven’t been educated about it—and as a result, a lot of people don’t understand it.
Anyone who’s suffered from depression (or any other mental illness) before has probably experienced being insulted by someone else’s flippant remarks about their condition. Some common examples include:
“But there’s no such thing as depression—we all have bad days sometimes.”
“How can you be depressed? There are so many people who are worse off than you!”
“But you don’t look like you have a mental illness!”
“Can’t you just get over it?”
“It’s all in your head.”
As someone who used to suffer from life-threatening bouts of depression and who now lives with bipolar disorder—albeit very happily and healthily these days—I have heard my fair share of these types of comments. I know how annoying they can be. No-one likes to have their pain trivialized, or have it implied that they’re “weak”, “soft” or a “wuss” for claiming they have a mental illness. So when someone says something to that effect, it’s easy to conclude that that person’s an asshole.
I can empathize with the thousands of people I’ve spoken to who’ve felt this way in response to hearing comments to that effect—but to be fair to the “perpetrator”, if I dare call them that, they’re very rarely saying what they said to be mean.
Rather, it’s just because they don’t know any better.
And I don’t think it’s fair to blame them for that.
As you know, mental illness is minimally spoken about, so a lot of people haven’t been educated about it—and as a result, a lot of people don’t understand it.
But if we as people with mental illnesses want other people to abandon their misconceptions, then it’s incumbent upon us to educate them—instead of concluding that they’re an asshole and walking away.
It’s incumbent upon us to explain to them why their misconceptions are misplaced, and enlighten them with the truth.
If they don’t listen and continue to make disparaging remarks, then it might be time to consider distancing yourself from them. But in my experience, if someone with a mental illness takes the time to explain more about it to someone else—and if they do so in a calm and confident way—then the person listening is usually open-minded enough to be receptive. They usually come around.
This is one of the main reasons why I’m so open about my own plight with mental illness—because I believe that if we as people with mental illnesses want the stigma to diminish – if we want people who don’t have a mental illness to understand what we’re going through – then it is our responsibility to educate them so that they do understand.
If we continue to remain silent, how will they ever learn any better?
Photo: B Rosen/Flickr
I disagree. If I said “You deserved to get AIDS because you had unprotected sex” or “You only have cancer because you live an unhealthy lifestyle” then the AIDS/cancer sufferer would think I was an asshole. And they’d be right. So when someone tells me that my mental illness is all in my head or made up for attention then my reaction is “you’re an asshole”. So how are they any less of an asshole for their mental health ignorance than I am for my AIDS/Cancer ignorance? Ignorance isn’t a good enough reason to excuse asshole behaviour. If you aren’t… Read more »
Their comments represent a distinct lack of empathy and tact. Neither quality requires education or knowledge, just love and kindness. Thus there is something of the a##hole about the perpetrators. Time spent giving precious energy to such people can be toxic to preserving one’s health and does not promote gentle healing. Explaining a condition (seemingly endlessly at times) can be incredibly draining, fatiguing and defeating, particularly when you are already struggling to keep your head above water. Yes, educating people is essential, but it can feel far too burdensome a responsibility for a sufferer of mental health issues. The comments… Read more »