For today’s Boo You! I’d like to talk about the stigma associated with being mentally ill, and the discrimination the mentally ill face.
I have suffered from the mental illnesses of anxiety and depression since childhood. Since first obtaining treatment about 12 years ago, my life radically changed for the better. Yet that very act of seeking treatment, which for me includes antidepressants, renders me in some peoples’ eyes as defective, dysfunctional, morally weak, and not fit to parent. And that’s simply because I suffer from such garden-variety disorders as anxiety and depression. I shudder to think what persons suffering from bipolar disorder or schizophrenia must face. Yet persons with those disorders can also be fully functioning members of society, too, with proper treatment.
Imagine my dismay when I saw this from the Concord, NH Monitor via Facebook, courtesy of my childhood friend Bev:
“Barrington Republican Martin Harty told Sharon Omand, a Strafford resident who manages a community mental health program, that “the world is too populated” and there are “too many defective people,” according to an e-mail account of the conversation by Omand. Asked what he meant, she said Harty clarified, “You know the mentally ill, the retarded, people with physical disabilities and drug addictions – the defective people society would be better off without.”
“Harty confirmed to the Monitor that he made the comments to Omand. Harty told the Monitor the world population has increased dramatically, and “it’s a very dangerous situation if it doubles again.” Asked about people who are mentally ill, he asked, apparently referring to a lack of financial resources, “Can we afford to bring them through?”
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“Omand said Harty appeared to be serious. After Omand responded that his idea sounded like what Adolf Hitler did in World War II, Omand said Harty responded, “Hitler did something right, and I agree with (it).”
Wow. Now I know this guy was 91 and he subsequently resigned his seat. Many people would say his comments are not the norm and are extreme. While they are indeed extreme, there sadly are probably a lot of people out there who feel the same way, at least to some degree.
This is why I want to talk about my anxiety and depression. I am a functioning, contributing member of society who happens to have an abnormal brain chemistry. I am fine on my meds, just like a person with diabetes can control his blood sugar with appropriate treatment. The more people talk about living with mental illness, the less stigma there will be. And the less stigma, the less discrimination.
I don’t just need to do this for myself– I need to do this for my child, who at age 4 is already struggling with anxiety issues and is in therapy. I don’t want her to grow up in a world that sees her very real disease as a reason to treat her as defective and morally inferior.
So, Boo You! everyone who discriminates against and stigmatizes the mentally ill. We are all around you, living our lives, just like everyone else. Mental illness can happen to anyone, and is not a weakness. Let’s stop treating it like a moral failing and treat it for what it is: a medical problem.