If you have a mental illness, you know stigma. There’s stigma in the shame you feel if you say you have a mental illness. There’s stigma in the way people react if you say you have a mental illness. There’s stigma in the way mental health coverage is still something that needs to be fought for. There’s stigma in the way people blame you for your illness as no one would ever blame you for any other illness. When people with mental illness are blamed for every bad thing we can’t do anything about, you know there’s stigma.
We know a lot now about how to overcome stigma. We can see the way people who are gay, for instance, once stigmatized, are now more accepted. When I was a kid I thought homosexual people were strange and unnatural. I didn’t think I knew any. As I got older, and Gay people came out of the closet, I recognized homosexuality was really quite common. I knew dozens and, in knowing this about them, I discovered they weren’t strange or unnatural at all.
The same thing could happen with mental illness if mental illness came out of the closet, if the people who were mentally ill could be brave enough to say, this is a part of me. Then we could see how common mental illness is. We would see that people with mental illness are not raving lunatics, or scary gun-toting maniacs, but ordinary people with struggles. What person doesn’t have struggles? This is just a particular kind.
It is not my job to out anyone, nor is it to reassure you if you are afraid to out yourself. It’s a brave, brave thing to come out of the closet. It some circumstances, it may be dangerous and foolhardy. It may actually be crazy to say you’re crazy. But, for some people, it may be the right thing to do and the only way they can overcome their own shame and self-loathing.
That, apparently, is the case for Ross, a 38-year-old mental health advocate with Borderline Personality Disorder. Ross has come out of the closet to some extent (we, on the web, don’t know his last name). He has a plan to end stigma. Here’s his plan:
On Saturday, August 18th, 2018, we will go to the streets of our own community for 4 hours with a sign that simply reads “I have (your mental illness) and I am not ashamed. Break the Stigma #ProjectIAmNotAshamed.”
This is unquestionably the right thing to do for our society, but you’ll have to answer for yourself whether it’s the right thing to do for you. If you would lose your job, custody of your kids, or suffer any of a hundred other consequences of coming out of the closet, then please don’t do it. Other’s can blaze this trail. But, if the only thing that stopping you is fear or shame, then consider setting that fear and shame aside for a few hours on August 18th. It’ll be good for you.
If you don’t have a mental health diagnosis, but care about those who do, you can help, too. In the same way that family and friends helped to fight the stigma of homosexuality by admitting they were connected, you too can come out of the closet. Just don’t violate the privacy of the person you’re trying to support.
As Ross says:
This event is not limited to those with mental illness. If you are not afflicted, your sign can read “I am a supporter of those with mental illness and I am not ashamed.”
For more information, go to Project I am Not Ashamed