Monday, June 6, 2011

The Face of Mental Illness

Late last night one of my online advocate friends posted a blog post over on wegohealth.com. A great post that we all should read and try to answer for ourselves.

It was a short post and ended with the following questions:

Are you guilty of looking for a "face of mental illness", are we all? Do you wear your mask to the doctor's office or for family members? I think it's important to show the world that all kinds of faces can be associated with mental illness. How about you?


There is one question I would like to add to this. Has the face of mental illness changed for you since your own diagnosis? Since your mother's, son's, best friend's, coworker's diagnosis?

I don't know if there ever was a 'face of mental illness for me'. Mental Health has always been a fascinating topic to me, I worked with (and as a teen baby sat) kids with various disabilities. One of my classes in high school covered some of these issues in the context of education for people with various health issues. Between my own interest, that class and hearing my mom speak about her job where she helps facilitate ways for people with various handicaps to stay in the workforce and get them the aid they need, I learned early on that the 'look' of any illness is so varied that you cannot put a real face to it.

There is not one stereotypical look of a depressed person, a person with bipolar, schizophrenia or borderline personality disorder. In the blog post from last night another friend posted a picture of herself followed by 'This is my face. Can you tell by looking at me that I have a mental illness?'. I jokingly said that it must be her glasses that define her.

But isn't it true that so many times we as society want to define what any given category of people look or act like? As humans we want things to neatly fit into our little boxes. Preferably one box only for ease of understanding. We want to be able to understand things because the unknown scares us. It is so much easier if we can sort things neatly and without any problems. The not knowing scares us.

And that is where our old friend 'Stigma' comes to play yet again. That is why people are afraid to seek help. That is why we too often pretend to be okay when we are screaming for help on the inside. We don't want the facade to drop and too often that leads to people waiting to get help until they have no other choice BUT to seek help. As long as 'I' look the part (neat, tidy, productive), 'I' cannot have a mental health issue. 'I' am smiling so 'I' cannot be depressed... 'I' don't look or act like 'those' people that are on the news and on TV.

Those of us living with mental health issues in some shape or form have our work cut out for us if we want to lessen the stigma. It will mean that we need to show that people with mental illness look like the girl next door, the cashier at the supermarket, the star athlete from the pro-football team, the actor in hollywood. Because these ARE the people that deal with mental health issues. They more often than not act and look just like those who have not been affected.

7 comments:

Bec said...

Hi Kris,
I couldn't agree with you more. If only more people could understand this.
Melissa (from the wego discussion) is trying to create a 'faces of mental illness' post. I've mentioned it on my blog (http://bit.ly/lWGf1C) and have added a link to this post by you as a bit of background info. Hope you don't mind.
Bec x

Kris said...

Bec, I hadn't seen Melissa's blog post about that yet but I love the idea! Will share it on my blog page and personal page on fb as well

AmyK said...

Awesome post Kris!
Thank you for sharing my original piece and for continuing to speak out about such an important topic. I agree whole-heartedly with your perspective.

We have to show the world that it can and is anyone!

Faycin A Croud said...

I tend to keep things very superficial with most people because the instant they find out I have a mental illness, they start treating me like I have three noses, all of them dripping really nasty snot. I can tell that they're wondering when I'm going to go ballistic on them and what "the voices" are telling me to do, even though I do not experience psychosis. I'm also a rather angry mentally ill person as opposed to being a "good crazy" who talks about how POSITIVE I am in spite of my disease. So I don't have bunches of followers. Ah well. I was looking for "mental illness blog groups" which is how I found this.

Kris said...

@Faycin a crowd, I hope you found my blog in someway helpful. You sound rather similar to my husband, good luck to you. Keep stopping by and commenting. I welcome all input.

helenasmole said...

What you wrote is so true! Stigma is nothing but the fear of the unknown.

regards, helena smole

Kris said...

Thank you Helena!

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