I have been trying to be an advocate for stamping out the stigma of mental illness for a few years now, but I do not believe that I have reached a single person outside of those who are also advocates and/or victims of stigma. I sure wish I knew a way to educate people in order for them to make a change in their beliefs and attitudes, but those people really do not seem to care and are unwilling to learn. It is said that education is the key but; one cannot educate someone who is not interested in learning. As a teacher, I know this to be a cold, hard fact. I am not reaching the people who are ignorant of the issues, the people who need to understand; I am simply preaching to the choir!
If mental illness has not touched people’s lives directly, in reality or by perception, then there really is no reason for them to learn! The information is completely irrelevant to their lives. They will only believe the sensationalism and outright misrepresentation of the mentally ill that they see in the movies, the crime shows and even in the news. They really have no interest in the reality – why should they? I am constantly frustrated with trying to sell what no one wants to buy. If I share information on Facebook for example, the only people who seem to “like” and “share” my posts are those who already understand. Some of my “friends” have even blocked my posts because they simply do not want to hear about it.
I set up a booth once at a local event to promote awareness through information and by selling some blue elephants and ribbons and crafts to raise funds for the Defeat Depression campaign. There were at least 150 people there, in a small area. I set up right beside the canteen with big colourful posters and information and a list of famous people who had mental illness, etc. We made about $7 (a couple of ribbons and one pair of earrings). One person actually took a pamphlet. Most people who walked by consciously looked in a different direction so that they did not have to acknowledge us. The only people who came over were the people I knew. Their eyes glazed over when we began to talk about why we were there. They quickly bought something and practically sprinted away!
Next week there is an event with a celebrity speaking about mental illness and how it has affected her life and that of her family. I am hoping that from this event I will get some pointers about how I can get the information to the people that need to hear it. I would really be interested in finding what percentage of the audience will be either people who have a mental illness or are loved ones/caregivers. Will there be anyone there who doesn’t already “get it”? It costs $20. Some people I know who do have a mental illness or an addiction and who self-stigmatize could really benefit from the event, but most do not have an extra $20 or are afraid that if they go, everyone will assume that they are ill.
What I want to see are BIG billboards like the ones for other disease awareness, but for Mental Illness. Huge, bold truths such as:
“Mental Illness IS an Illness – NOT a Character Flaw”
“One in Five” (or four, depending on which statistics you follow)
“People with Mental Illness Are NO MORE DANGEROUS Than Anyone Else!”
“People With Mental illness Do Not CHOOSE to Have A Mental Illness”
“NO SHAME in ANY Illness, Including Mental Illness!”
I want to see some powerful PSA’s on network TV during prime-time that SHOUT the truth. I want to hear radio PSA’s more than twice a year (that just tell about the “Walk for Mental Health,” two days before the event is to take place – how well planned is that?). I want to see the posters about these kinds of events in public places other than in just the mental health agencies and care units. I want to see frequent television biographies of people who have mental illness and are successful members of society – not just celebrities! I want to see the high school curriculum deal with mental illness in a valuable and comprehensive manner – not through one play or performance that the students get out of class for and then giggle about after, or a couple of pages in a textbook about drugs and suicide. Then, at least some information would at least be seen by a lot more people and perhaps, just maybe, people would start thinking differently about it! I have tried to get involved with local agencies about getting the information out there, and they either do not want my help or say that there’s no money for it. I can’t do it alone! We all agree that it needs to be done. What is the hold-up?
We need to find new ways to reach and teach the unwilling, or the damage that the stigma of mental illness causes will never be alleviated. I would like to be able to tell my story under my own name and not have to worry about losing my job! I would like that for everyone who has to keep the secret because too many people are not getting the message!
About L. Song
L. Song is a middle aged professional who has been struggling with Bipolar Disorder II since her teens. After finally being properly diagnosed and prescribed the correct medication at forty-four, she has dedicated herself to helping others who suffer from the stigma of mental illness through her work. To try to make a difference, L. Song supports organizations such as Mood Disorders Society of Canada, CAMH, as well as HMC. As an avid “horse person,” she also follows and contributes to a Facebook page, Riders Against Mental Illness Stigma. She plans to someday work with people and horses in a therapeutic capacity and publish a book about her experiences living and recovering from the disorder. You can follow her story on HMC's Supportive Minds blog.