Making clever cracks at being schizophrenic or bipolar may get you laughs, but what about the millions who have this?
Whilst I was online recently I stumbled across a clothing retailer from the USA. They’re primarily aimed at women (so I don’t really know how I ended up there, and neither does my Google Chrome history), and they sell mainly T-Shirts and vests. Doesn’t sound like too much is wrong here, does it?
However, scroll down the page and you’ll find two products that caught my eye, and not for the right reasons either. Both had quotes, and one said, ‘I was Bipolar before it was cool’, and another said (again, I quote), ‘I thought I was Bipolar. Turns out I’m an as*hole’.
In any one year, one in four people will suffer from a mental health disorder. One in ten young people will suffer from this. And nine in ten people who suffer from a mental illness will receive some form of discrimination as a result.
Shirts that carry phrases like this are one of the worst forms of discrimination, and it should disgust everyone. Here’s why.
If you tell people that you don’t know anyone with a mental illness, then you’re lying, whether you know it or not. Everyone knows someone who suffers from a mental illness, if that person is not yourself.
According to World Health Organisation data, the top three diseases that contribute to Disease Adjusted Life Years are HIV/AIDS, Injuries, and Neuropsychiatric disorders. More than 150 million people worldwide are suffering from depression at any one time, and 1 million people will commit suicide. The simple fact is that if you believe none of your friends have mental health disorders, it’s not so: it’s just they haven’t told you.
Chances are if you’re a member of Twitter, Tumblr or similar social networks, you may have seen some rather upsetting content pertaining to mental health. Some social networks will reportedly lock your account if you search for certain blacklisted terms to do with mental health. For example, there was (I’m unaware if there still is) an entire community of Tumblr dedicated to posting videos and pictures of self-harm. Very few were actually suffering from a mental health disorder, most were doing it because they thought it was cool.
‘Alright’, you say, ‘social media sometimes takes it too far. But what are the real worldwide consequences of mental illness?’
Before seriously asking that, consider for a moment that 11.5 per cent of the deaths of UK women in 2012 were caused by Dementia/Alzheimer’s. Suicide and poisoning of undetermined intent was the leading cause of death for 20-34 year-olds.
To an extent, one of the shirts may get its ‘inspiration’ (and I use that term very loosely) from carers of mental health sufferers who are often treading on thin ice. But that’s no-one’s fault, and if you think someone who has a mental health disorder can turn it on and off as they please, then you’re wrong on so many levels.
It was once pointed out that if someone made a shirt glamorizing cancer, then there would be outrage. And of course there would. No disease should be glamorized, it’s just wrong. But mental illnesses are diseases too, and sometimes they debilitate people more than physical illnesses.
But there is one more problem that I have with people and mental illness stigmatization.
Picture the scene. You’ve just tidied your house. It’s spotless. Any speck of dust was just obliterated by you and your cleaning equipment. Then there’s a knock on the door. Your friends have arrived for that party you were throwing tonight. One jokes with you about how tidy your house is. You feel a need to say something witty in response.
Don’t say it …
‘I’m so …’
Please don’t say it …
You said it.
There’s a major flaw with jokes about mental illness, and it’s the fact you don’t actually put much meaning behind them. OCD for example is a major condition. It’s not just about keeping your house tidy. For some people it’s about washing their hands until they bleed from being so raw. For others it’s about doing something over and over again for no apparent reason, other than the fact that you believe something bad is going to happen. Sometimes it’s both of those combined, and so much more. If you use mental illnesses like a throwaway, you insult everyone with that condition very deeply.
Mental illnesses are far from a joke, no matter how severe or mild someone’s condition can be. Sadly, people who suffer from mental illnesses also suffer from discrimination on a daily basis from the world around them, and it needs to stop.
Always remember: even if you can’t see the bruises, the marks, the scars and the pain, it doesn’t mean they don’t exist.