Wednesday, May 5, 2010

What's in a label?

As human beings we usually feel the need to put things into little boxes. These boxes are based on our own upbringings and are based on our culture, our society, church/no church, familiarity/unusual. Things that don't fit into our own little box(es) tend to make us uncomfortable. For some these boxes are more fluent than they are for others. We have labels for just about everything. Just like there are people who cannot imagine life without these labels there are others ho strive to live outside of all of these labels.

But do these labels hurt or help? Like with most things it has its good and its bad sides. Let's take mental health and mental illness.

There seems to be a push in today's society to only talk about mental health and to shy away from the 'label' of mental illness. Most people would say that they have 'mental health issues' and not that they are 'mentally ill'. Mental illness still conjures up the picture of institutions, straight jackets, violence and all those other negative things the media loves to talk about. Movies like 'The Crazies' IMO do nothing to help dispel these stereotypes. Because of that people are afraid to seek out help when they need it. After all, who wants to be put in this kind of box?

Reality though is that mental illness encompasses so much more than these issues. Mental illness is a HUGE box with lots of little compartments inside of it. Bipolar, DID, depression, schizophrenia, PTSD are all part of this box. They share similarities yet can be as different as night and day. One big thing they have in common is the stigma attached to all of it.

I think that we need to take back the label of 'mental illness' and redefine it. Use it to work FOR us instead of against us. One way to do that is (and I know I am repeating myself) is to share our stories. 1 in 4 adults — approx 57.7 million Americans — experience a mental health disorder in a given year. Look at your own circle of friends, your coworkers, and various other social circles you move around in. How many people have talked about these kinds of things openly? 'Be the change you want to see in the world' Maybe if you start sharing your story, others will follow your example. One story at a time we might be able to counter those purely negative stories with FACTS and reality.

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