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Thursday, April 30, 2015

Mental illness isn't a joke

This meme is in a comment thread on Forward Progressive's Facebook page. It's supposed to be a snarky response to some racist guy's rather repugnant rant about the Baltimore protests. You know, a joke. Because it seems that if someone has a belief system that differs from yours, or embraces ignorance like a kid embraces a teddy bear during a thunderstorm, they deserve to be in a mental hospital.

Ever been in a mental hospital? Ever been sitting in a chair and watched a schizophrenic man do the Thorazine shuffle up to the nurses's desk wearing only a scrubs shirt and a cowboy hat? Ever watched that man urinate on the floor, completely unaware he's doing it? Ever had your five-year old son visit you in a psychiatric facility, where you were placed by a morally and ethically challenged psychiatrist? Ever had your five-year old son witness a woman get dragged out from under a public phone by police officers wearing latex gloves, picked up while she screamed, and taken into a room with restraints, because she refused her meds? Ever spent Christmas and New Year's in a minimum security mental health facility?

I have. Hell, I've been locked up in an emergency ward after being Baker Acted in Florida. Writing about this has practically guaranteed I will never be employed, because even though it's technically illegal to take someone's past (long past, in my case) struggles with a mental illness into consideration during the hiring process, we all know it happens. No, the HR manager isn't allowed to come right out and ask you, but given that I have a bit of an online presence, it's not a stretch to predict negative repercussions.

Mental illness isn't a joke. People on all sides of the political spectrum like to call each other "crazy." Liberal writers, including writers I've worked with, have labeled Sarah Palin, Ted Nugent, Michele Bachmann, and so many other conservatives, insane, as if insanity itself is a bad thing, an evil thing, a choice. The NRA's own spokesman, Wayne LaPierre, called for a national registry for the mentally ill in his speech after Sandy Hook. A national registry for anyone who seeks mental health treatment, or struggles with chronic depression, borderline personality disorder, PTSD, anxiety, bipolar disorder. Because in our society, if you're mentally ill, you're obviously dangerous and a threat. Or a joke, a scapegoat, the reason for all our problems.

What we are not told is that mentally ill people are far more likely to be the victims of violence than the perpetrators. What we are not told is that many public schools have no idea how to deal with mentally ill teenagers, often stigmatizing them, driving them out of the learning environment, and refusing to give families any help with finding a safer, less threatening way to continue their education. What we are not told is that stigmatizing leads to thoughts of self harm, makes it harder for people to even seek help, much less receive it, and that in the end, we are helping people end their own lives by either ignoring them, making fun of them, or turning them into monsters.

I am not a monster, nor are the people I love who have struggled, or still are struggling, with mental illness. We are people, with souls, and emotions, and rights. We do not deserve to be made fun of, or attacked, or minimized, or demonized. We deserve respect, love, support, and help. We deserve a chance to live the life we dream of living, a life without fear, a life without pain, a life of joy and fulfillment.

We deserve to be treated like people, not like a punchline. We are not a joke.