First of all, this is not a political post.
But it is a plea.
For those of you who are having a hard time dealing with the behavior of the current leader of my country (United States), please do not refer to him as “mentally ill.” It’s unfair to those of us who truly have a diagnosed mental illness.
Here is what is true for me (in no particular order):
1. Those of us who live with mental illness have a disease. We may have waited years for a diagnosis, like I did, or we may be lucky enough to find someone who can explore our mental illness with us, prescribe treatment, and help us work through it at a much earlier age.
2. Many—make that many, many—of us with mental illness are willing to accept (if not celebrate) finding out how to treat what we have been dealing with for years. We are open to change—willing to change, in fact—to try new treatments, and to try new ways of dealing with our diseases. Not everyone, but many of us long for answers and relief.
3. We have been diagnosed by a mental health professional who has actually talked to us at least for a few moments, perhaps superficially looked at the events of our life and the various elements that constitute our disease (some of us are luckier than others and receive far more than that; however, none of us received any useful or meaningful diagnoses from arm-chair “psychologists” or even well-meaning desperate people trying to make sense of our behavior when it was difficult to process or understand).
4. Most of us with mental illness can still express empathy, and if you read the Facebook support groups or attend in-person support groups, you will see that many do on a regular basis. We can also—or at least almost always—see our own issues and try to consider others. We don’t always succeed, but we try.
5. We do not take delight in our occasional mean-spirited words. In fact, more than likely, we deeply regret them, and sometimes we are able to apologize and make amends. We are not intentionally cruel, although most of us will admit that we occasionally can overlook the needs of others—and when we do, most of us try to become aware of it and change our behavior.
6. Many of us take responsibility for our own health to the point that we may seek hospitalization when needed.
7. We are almost all looking for support and love and concern from those who care about us. We care that our words have meaning—sometimes profound—and try, most of the time, to use them the best we can.
8. We long for friends and allies, for people who will look out for us and tell us when we are headed down a wrong path.
9. We are grateful—usually not for our disease, of course—but that help is there and that those who support us are working diligently to make the world a better place for us to live in safety and comfort.
10. Most of us, particularly after we come to a certain acceptance of our disease, want to help raise awareness—just like those who suffer from cancer, MS, heart disease, and a host of other conditions.
11. We are usually creative people who want very much to contribute to the good of the world. We work hard to believe and show that we have something to offer that will make other people’s lives better.
12. We live with stigma and shame on a daily basis. We hope that you will not add to that.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. One way to honor those of us who contend with mental illness is to look at what mental illness really is and not confuse it with mere selfishness or, sometimes, a lack of knowledge and willingness to learn that is downright dangerous.
That is not mental illness.
That is something else, and because I hope you did not try to diagnose me, I will not diagnose anyone else.
In plain words, give us a break—don’t further stigmatize our living with a life-threatening disease by labeling someone “mentally ill” when you really have no way of knowing that such a person does, in fact, deal with the disease of mental illness or something that is really, really different.
While you think this may be a political rant, it is not. All of my words would apply—and do—to anyone in the public eye (or private) who acts irrationally, selfishly, or completely focused on praise for themselves. I am coming to you as a person who hurts and struggles and knows the difference between caring and not caring.
In this coming month of Mental Health Awareness, I’m asking you to elevate your concern for us and refrain from pouring more stigma and public derision upon us, upon me, and upon all of us who have this disease. We will notice your kindness, and we will thank you for it.