Recently I was contacted by an NYU journalism student to be in a documentary about debunking mental illness stigma. She found my piece on Fighting Against the Stigma of Mental Illness on The Huffington Post . I was thrilled that she found me, and told her I would be honored to be a part of this piece.
Living with panic disorder, I’ve encountered a lot of misunderstanding from the general public. It’s hard enough to explain to friends and family what it means to have an anxiety attack let alone people who don’t know you from a hole in the wall.
Case in point, I was consulting with an attorney the other day and I had to address my mental health history.
“I don’t know what kind of mental health problems you actually have.” The attorney said quite seriously looking me dead in the eye.
“I’m a neurotic Jew from New York.” I responded confidently. “They’re not serious. I manage depression and anxiety. I’m in therapy and I take antidepressants. I work as a substitute teacher and professional writer. I’m functioning just fine.”
As soon a person hears that you have mental health issues, they automatically assume that those issues are serious. It doesn’t matter if you’re in appropriate treatment. The stigma surrounding mental illness is so pervasive that the public continues to generalize and characterize those of us managing these issues well as “crazy.”
I have a problem with the word “crazy.” It’s a derogatory word. Crazy is defined as “mentally deranged.” That sounds pejorative to me. Yet this word is used flippantly in the society to describe behavior that is undesirable. For example, if I’m having a disagreement with a friend and she disagrees with my point of view, a common colloquialism would be for her to say “you’re crazy!”
Let’s deconstruct what she’s saying here:
“You’re mentally deranged.”
By all intents and purpose, if I disagree with my friend, I’m “mentally deranged, especially as manifested in a wild or aggressive way.” I stole that from the dictionary. But you get the point. Next time you have an argument with your friend, how about saying “I disagree with you,” instead of referring to an individual as mentally deranged.
Stigma surrounding mentally ill individuals is still out there, and we need to fight it with all our might.
I’m excited to participate in this documentary so that I can share my story and spread the word that mentally ill persons are not crazy, we’re just people like everyone else.