I was asked the question in the title by a close friend of mine a few days ago. In context of the conversation, it made sense, but it was still a jarring question.
No matter the mental illness, there is some sort of stereotype and stigma associated with it. Research continually proves that these stigmas and stereotypes are wrong, and yet the public (and even some treatment providers, they are not immune to this) still maintains these ideals of what mental illness should look like.
Despite the growing research on LGBTQ+ people, People of Color, and Men having eating disorders, the stereotype remains that eating disorders are a young, white, female problem.
The stereotype of addicts being homeless, mentally ill, and exceedingly out of touch with reality is also being proved false; yet the stereotype endures and continues to be perpetuated.
The stereotype of people who self-harm being teenagers who will “grow out” of the behavior is also constantly being proved wrong, and still here we are talking about it.
So what is it going to take to reduce and/or abolish the stereotypes around mental illness?
I’m not sure I have the answer to that question. Sharing personal experience has always been my attempt at reducing stereotypes and stigma, but I’m only one person. Other people share their experiences in a variety of different ways, and it’s helpful as well.
The truth of the matter is that everyone knows someone who deals with mental illness in some capacity. But many people are unaware of it, because the media, health care professionals, and cultural ideals perpetuate this notion that mental illness is a “visible” occurrence. If you know someone who is mentally ill, you “should be able to tell,” despite the fact that this is rarely ever true.
When I started writing this, the #metoo campaign had just begun, and it’s now in full force. Every time I’ve logged into any social media website today I’ve seen someone post about it.
At the very least, this campaign is making people acutely aware of how big of a problem assault and harassment are. Even if this doesn’t bring about policy change or anything to that effect, it does break the silence around the issue, bring awareness to the fact that so many have dealt with these awful experiences, and break the stigma/stereotypes/etc.
I stand with the other survivors, and I stand with those trying to reduce the stigma around such a prevalent issue.
Being a survivor is not visible, in the same way that being mentally ill is not visible. Continuing to breakdown the communication barriers between “us” and “them” helps to raise awareness, and helps people get treatment they need.
I am a survivor of assault, I’m a person who lives with mental illness and chronic illness, and I want to see the stereotypes broken down. I want to change the way people view me and people like me. And I will continue to raise my voice until that happens, in solidarity with so many others trying to change the way we are perceived. We are stronger together.