It occurred to me, as early as the Columbine shooting, that the real issue facing our country was not gun control but the lack of mental health treatment. Granted it doesn’t seem necessary for the general public to need fully automatic lethal weapons like AK-47’s, but I’m not here to talk about gun control. Instead I’d like to talk about the reality of stigmas and the damage they cause.
By definition, public stigma is a type of discrimination against a person because of a perceived characteristic. For example, centuries ago people who acquired leprosy were stigmatized by the general public because lepers were considered tainted and unclean. In today’s society many types of stigmas (figurative plural) exist. Wherever discrimination exists, or people are “frowned” upon, there lies stigma.
As an overweight person, I may be perceived as lazy and/or stupid. I’ve been told, “Gee, it’s too bad you cant get a handle on that weight problem.” How does one respond? I was brought up to be kind to everyone I encounter. That does not mean I won’t advocate for myself nor am I a doormat. Typically I smile and say, “Oh I know, I’m such a dolt.” Those savvy enough know I’m not pleased with the comment and those who aren’t savvy enough, well, they provide amusement.
Part of the stigma for being overweight is the assumption that I have complete control over it; therefore, there is no excuse for me to be overweight. Perhaps in their simple minds that’s the case. If you’ve ever known anyone who has struggled with weight issues, whether they binge eat, starve themselves, or binge and purge, it’s not a simple choice by said individual. It’s a complex issue and many never gain control over it just as some alcoholics or drug abusers never gain control over their addictions. These are illnesses, folks. They are not whims regarding failures of self-discipline.
I don’t speak much of mental illness because so many are not capable of understanding. Too many people still have the “pull yourself up by the boot straps” mentality. Or the ‘OMG, she’s mental!” belief. Might as well shoot yourself in the foot than to tell someone you have mental health challenges. It’s time for that to change.
If you look back over the public shooting in the past few decades, it’s easy to see that most of the perpetrators suffered from some sort of mental health issue. Of course, now the word “issue” even has a negative connotation as in, “OMG do you really think I have issues?” It’s a fate worse than death! In this case ‘issue’ is used to mean topic for debate and/or discussion. If you arrived at a different inference, shame on you.
If you have a sore knee, it is safe to say you have an orthopedic issue. If you fall and smack your head on the pavement, you may have a concussion issue in addition to an orthopedic issue. Follow my thinking? If you have chronic ear pain, you may have ear drainage issues. What?
Here’s the deal: I was diagnosed with severe depression and chronic anxiety disorder in 1982. I mean, if you’re going to have an issue you might as well do it up right. I was subject to panic attacks. People might assume I have this problem because I’m weak. On the contrary, I’m able to deal with this condition because I’m incredibly strong. I’m resilient. The more I’m kicked and pushed down, the faster I get up and thrive. I learned many coping mechanisms over the years. I’d say 98% of the time, no one would know I’m dealing with this illness. And the 2% is only seen by those closest to me. Never, ever, does it manifest in public.
Would people look at me and think I’m a mental case? No. Do I take medication to control my blood chemistry levels? Yes, I do. Have I ever abused my prescribed medication? No, I never have. Do I undergo counseling and/or therapy on a regular basis? Yes I do. Have I learned a great deal about psychological stuff in the past forty years of living with an illness? Yes, I have. Credit a quarter of a century as a high school teacher as well. I learned a great deal by observing and listening to my students during that time.
Does that make me an arm-chair psychologist? Heck, no. If I casually mention something to an acquaintance or friend about them perhaps exploring some of their issues, it comes from an abundance of concern. If over a period of time, an individual successively mentions a certain set of circumstances that occurred many, many years ago it raises a red flag in my mind. And when pressed for details, said individual won’t discuss despite mentioning the situation several times, that indicates unresolved issues in that person’s thinking (to me, that is my interpretation). Use common sense, if someone mentions a negative memory several times it assumes it has made an impact, either positive or negative. Again, this is my interpretation but based on my personal experience, I am often correct. Don’t jump to the conclusion that I need to be correct. I often hope I’m not.
It’s because I care that I might casually mention to a person that there might be some unresolved issues she/he might wish to explore. Most of the time it leads to a brief discussion and the individual is able re-frame or understand thoughts behind their thinking (or constant mention). It’s rare for someone to react vociferously and angrily, but it does happen. A person who rejects such thinking, calls me a name and is so impacted by being associated with having issues is a concern. No one’s life is perfect. Perfection is an ideal, it doesn’t truly exist.
At that point I have to sigh and remove myself from that situation. In Shakespeare’s play Hamlet, the character Queen Gertrude says, of an insincere explanation by another character, “the lady doth protest too much, methinks.” When I receive a virulent reaction like the one directly above, that line always runs through my head. I wasn’t applying a stigma, I was expressing a concern. If you choose not to see it, that’s on you. And my resilience has already healed your misinterpretation and disrespect.
N.B. This is not my graph. It was borrowed from the Internet.