A lot of the stigma around Mental Illness deals with the issue of Faking It. The idea that he is just doing it for attention, or she just wants to get out of work.
On a rational level, I don’t understand why people think this way. Don’t we usually fake things to make ourselves look better? Mental Illness is viewed as such a weakness in our society, so why would someone want to deal with stigma by choice?
There are some things we fake. I can think of a couple I fake on a regular basis:
Cooking. Four words: butter, onions, Betty Crocker. I am not a great cook. There are a few things I make really well (one of them is a kick-ass meatloaf), and most of those things I make from a line for line recipe from my Betty Crocker Housewife Bible cookbook. The rest of the time, I just fry some onions in butter and hope for the best. Butter will fool anybody. Speaking of butter, I fake how much I enjoy healthy food. “I love vegetables.” False; I like fruit, I love chocolate, I would die for a piece of vanilla birthday cake.
I also fake how smart I am. I am not above using Wikipedia mid-conversation to keep up with my genius friends. I also can’t spell, spell check is my reason for straight A’s throughout school. Speaking of Microsoft Word, I fake how much I know about computers. Because honestly, beyond sending an email and skipping to the next episode on Netflix, I am lost 90% of the time.
These are things we fake — things that make us seem smarter, stronger, or a better catch.
There are two things wrong with the theory that the Mentally Ill are, “doing it for attention.” First, Mental Health issues are not within a person’s control. The idea that someone is having a breakdown in the workplace washroom by choice seems a little silly to me. And second, there is a difference between attention seeking and needing attention. Is it such a bad thing to recognize that a friend or coworker is in need? Maybe the people struggling around you deserve a little more help and a little less skepticism.
Sometimes it is as simple as offering to take a coworker out for lunch. Fake that you are enjoying your food-court salad and listen to them for a half hour. Don’t take on their problems or try to be a doctor, just listen. Encourage them to seek professional help. Then encourage them to ditch the salad and get a cookie.
Unfortunately, sometimes even our health care system sends mixed messages to those in need. Healthcare providers are overloaded, and it often comes down to triage. Getting oneself in to see a psychiatrist is a lengthy and often painful process. The length of the waiting period is directly connected to the severity of one’s illness. Which, in the basic rules of triage, makes sense. But when patients are turned away from hospitals because they aren’t currently “in crisis” it feeds into the culture of faking it. It is hard to be proactive about your own health when you’re turned away at every office for not being sick enough. This weighs on the minds of patients. It is hard to admit you need help, it is even harder to seek it. Being told you somehow don’t deserve it is a crushing blow.
It makes the patient ask the question,
“Has everyone around me been right all along?”
They can’t help but think,
“Am I faking it?”
About Sarah Lindsay
Sarah Lindsay is in her mid-twenties and lives in Toronto with her boyfriend and their dog (who also has some anxiety issues). Sarah was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder in 2005 at the age of 16 and is still trying to figure it out. Follow Sarah’s story on HMC’s Supportive Minds Blog, or additionally you can follow her on Twitter, Facebook or check out her new website: SarahsMoods.com