We're All Mad Here: The Dangers of Openly Identifying with Mental Illness

Fighting the stigma against mental illness is an ongoing battle, and often an uphill one, as illustrated by many of the posts in this series. Sometimes it seems like we make two strides backward for every stride we take forward in terms of reframing the way people think, talk about, and handle mental illness. A slew of stigma-fighting campaigns have erupted in the last few years: Stamp Out Stigma in the UK, a US version, Bring Change 2 Mind, Time to Change, and many others. Despite the efforts of such campaigns, stigma and discrimination against people with mental illness continue to be problems, illustrating that we have a long way to go.

These campaigns approach public outreach and education from a number of perspectives, but many of them focus heavily on the coming out model. The queer community deserves all due credit for popularizing this approach to fighting social attitudes; by reminding people that we're here, we're queer, and they may as well get used to it, we weaponize the stigma against our identities and force people to confront their internalized attitudes about queerness. Yet, at the same time, coming out as queer, lesbian, gay, bisexual, and any number of other permutations of human sexuality beyond monogamous heterosexuality can be extremely dangerous, highlighting the major flaw in this model: It's not safe. Coming out is only as effective as it is safe, and the only way to make it safe is by encouraging more people to come out—to normalize it—which creates a double bind.

This is also the case with coming out campaigns for mental illness. A number of prominent celebrities have started openly talking about anxiety and depression, though fewer are willing to disclose what I often think of as the "big three" of mental health stigma: bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, and schizophrenia. In a handful of cases, celebrities have basically been forcibly outed. Out of respect for their privacy I'm not going to provide specific examples in this case, but I can think of at least two in the last year.

People are told that the only way to end stigma is to come out, and that the best way to educate members of the public and to reach out is to be open about mental illness. While I understand the sentiments behind this attitude, people who argue this ignore the very real dangers in coming out, and often end up underscoring the good crazy/bad crazy dichotomy in the process. It is safer to come out with some forms of mental illness than others, and pretending otherwise makes it impossible to confront the very real risks associated, not just with the big three but with all mental health diagnoses.

Coming out, with any mental illness, can result in losing your job and it can be disastrous for your career as a whole if you are in a small, close-knit industry. It can be a relationship-ender, and there is a delicate balance and dance that happens with deciding when and where to disclose mental illness in relationships. If you wait too long, you're being deceptive. If you say something too early, you may be written off as a potential partner because you're mentally ill. It can also destroy friendships, even very old ones, because suddenly you are dangerous and frightening because of a diagnosis. It can make you more vulnerable to abuse, because people with mental illness are viewed as legitimate targets.

Forcible outing of people with mental illness still happens, and it is extremely dangerous. For people working in fields like academia, for example, it can be the death knell of a career. If you've spent 10, 15, 20 years developing a reputation, you can watch it crumble around you in a matter of weeks. You can watch callbacks on job interviews dwindle away to nothing while your friends quietly slink around and refuse to talk to you. Coming out can have an intensely isolating effect, despite the claims that doing so can make you feel like a member of a community. If you don't have support from family and friends, it can be extremely dangerous. Not everyone is able to put their identity on the line like that and not everyone should have to.

Especially in the context of dehumanizing campaigns like Bring Change 2 Mind. abby jean discussed the problems with this campaign really well:

I literally gasped out loud. She is a mom, his mom. And he is not even her son, not even a person, not even a person with schizophrenia, not even a schizophrenic, he is labeled with his diagnosis.

Two people wearing white shirts, one a woman with 'mom' and the other a man with 'schizophrenia.'

The tendency to label people as their diagnoses is particularly common with some mental health conditions, especially the big three. When the very anti-stigma campaigns that are supposed to be making the world safer for us actually make it more dangerous, add to our experiences of isolation and dehumanization, well, it's hard to see how coming out would be safe, or good. In that environment, who wants to be the first to put everything on the line in pursuit of a better world?

Related Reading:

Push(back) at the Intersections: Sick of This: Mental Illness in Pop Culture

Previously: We're All Mad Here: Dating While Crazy, We're All Mad Here: Main Characters

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Comments

26 comments have been made. Post a comment.

Let's not forget that having

Let's not forget that having been open about mental illness at any point in your life, if it shows up on a medical record or you have to disclose it for your own medical safety, can preclude things like immigration. Even in countries with relatively few restrictions on immigration, having been hospitalized for mental health reasons can make you ineligible for residency. In others, even having been medicated for them or having sought counseling has the same effect.

MOST major illnesses can

MOST major illnesses can affect immigration processes.

Yes.

Yes. It's quite disgusting how many countries include "disability" as a valid reason to discriminate, isn't it?

Immigration? My driver

Immigration? My driver instructor at the time, told me not to mention it b/c it will tag my license and make trouble.

Much needed topic...

http://shewritesit.com/
I think mental illness is something that truly needs to be discussed more. Ignorance and lack of awareness keep this topic taboo and stigmatized. So many people are under diagnosed and it's something that affects more people than what we would like to believe. Great post bitches!!!

Seriously?

Awful article for a number of reasons. A) You can't lose your job due to the Americans with Disabilities Act and being stupid enough to infer this just makes it obvious that this individual has no clue what they're talking about. If anything, acknowledging your mental illness gives you even more protections than if you tried to hide it. B) Saying that you have a mental illness isn't just about you, it's also about letting other people out there know that they're not alone, and it's sometimes to illustrate that people are capable of leading successful lives while living with a mental illness. Ever hear of role models? Basically, this author would have everyone hide behind closed doors meaning that the only times you'd hear about mental illness would be when someone suffered a crisis that others found out about. Everyone's perceptions of mental illness would be of people when they were in their worst possible state of mind and not during all those other times when they were flourishing. C) Of course coming out wasn't always safe. That was the damned point! Coming out and normalizing the behavior was the first step towards confronting that violence and hate and prejudice and bringing it out into the open. It seems this writer prefers cowardice to courage. It's not easy. That's precisely the point of these campaigns: to help people to feel like they're not alone and that support is out there for them. That they don't have to suffer in silence. Acknowledging that you have a mental illness may be fraught with risks, but it has been precisely because people have had to courage to confront this issue head on that those risks have been diminished over the years. D) The people the writer makes reference to, those who would cut off contact with someone, persecute them, are obviously awful people. So your argument is basically that there are awful, petty people out there and we should all cave to their more base and awful tendencies? Is that it? What kind of world would we live in if everyone lived their lives that way, doing only what's expedient and convenient for you personally? You think it was easy for people to go to war for their countries, sacrificing their lives for something they considered more important than even their own lives? You think it was easy for people to fight slavery? To go head to head with Pinkertons and get killed for the rights of workers and unions? You think it was easy for all those who fought for civil rights? For universal suffrage? Justice isn't easy. Sometimes life isn't about doing what's easy, or convenient, or expedient, it's about doing what's right, even if doing so may potentially (at least in the short term) make your own life more difficult. The article betrays a completely selfish view of life and why we make the choices we make. I could go on, but this person clearly isn't worthy of any more of our time or discussion. My advice would be to take down this article and think long and hard before posting anything else so poorly researched and thought out. Your words have an impact and consequences for others. I can only hope that someone out there grappling with their own mental illness doesn't have the misfortune to read this post.

Wow, there's a lot to tackle

Wow, there's a lot to tackle here. I'll structure my reply as you did yours.

A) Firstly, you assume that everyone reading this is American (and even that the author was only addressing US citizens). I am not, so your Americans with Disabilities Act does not apply to me, and, I'm sure, plenty of other readers. You also make the assumption that because certain forms of legislation are enacted, that people do not suffer from oppression. This is blatantly false. The legal system is an incredibly important tool for progress, in my opinion, but it is hardly as simplistic as you make it out to be. People are still fired due to discrimination; plenty of Americans lose their jobs because they are outed. Discrimination like this is often difficult to prosecute if there is no concrete evidence (and even then, many people do not have the time, energy, or money to pursue a case).

B) Absolutely not. People who have mental illnesses have no obligation to put their safety at risk and tell the world about their private medical histories. Sure, some people who have mental illnesses might do this, and, yes, this is often a brave act. But it is not an obligation. Life is often difficult enough for people who are discriminated against to deal with added stigma in their everyday lives, and you have no right to demand it. This doesn't in any way mean that s. e. smith was saying that zie would prefer everyone 'hide behind closed doors'; you're being completely intellectually dishonest when you claim this.

C) Again. Same point as above. You have no right to demand that people put their safety in danger. The author acknowledges that coming out has been used as an effective tool to advance the progress of the gay rights movement; if you think that zie's against it, then you clearly haven't read the blog post thoroughly. The author is taking a far more nuanced look at a complex situation than you are; this hardly means that zie 'prefers cowardice to courage'.

D) These people that s.e. smith talks about are the lovers, partners, friends, bosses, relatives, authorities. They are very often people that a person with a mental illness cannot simply cut out of their lives; they are often people that a person with a mental illness relies on, for whatever reason. This isn't nearly as one-dimensional as you claim it to be. The thing about oppression is that it's built into a society, so you cannot escape people who enforce it. It is taught to people from birth and constantly validated and normalized, so that everyone who engages in society is, in some way, enforcing and shaping it. It would be arguably impossible to survive without interacting and relying on these people, so, yes, that absolutely factors into an individual possibly being unwilling to 'come out'.

Last few thoughts:

1) "I could go on, but this person clearly isn't worthy of any more of our time or discussion."

s. e. smith writes an incredibly intelligent and worthwhile blog on this subject and plenty more. The things that zie discusses are well, well worth everyone's time and discussion.

2) "My advice would be to take down this article and think long and hard before posting anything else so poorly researched and thought out. Your words have an impact and consequences for others. I can only hope that someone out there grappling with their own mental illness doesn't have the misfortune to read this post."

It's a good thing no-one asked for your advice, isn't it? Way to silence someone who makes very valid points just because you happen to disagree with them.

It is difficult to tell how people will respond to any form of writing, especially on a topic like mental illness; people respond to all sorts of things in all sorts of ways, and there's little way of predicting this. However, I don't see how this blog post is nearly as damaging as you sensationally claim it to be. Maybe you'd do well to heed your own advice and think before posting.

Thanks

Thanks for your thoughtful response, devotchka! Just wanted to chime in and agree with you in case there was any wonder as to whether or not we'll be taking this article down (we won't be).

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

No worries! Just wanted to

No worries! Just wanted to add to anyone reading that my comment was based purely off my interpretation of the blog post; I can't speak for s.e. smith, and if I misread anything, that's entirely on me.

I apologize for my tone, and

I apologize for my tone, and for personally attacking the author's character, as this article provoked a very visceral reaction on my part, and as the writer's intention is obviously not to harm the interests of the mentally ill. That said, I will take issue with the article's point, and with your response to what I wrote.

While everyone reading this article may not be living in America, the same challenges that individuals with mental illness face here are faced by individuals abroad. Were the author to limit their analysis to a descriptive account of the challenges and risks faced by individuals living with mental illness, including potential risks they incur in deciding to disclose that they have a mental illness, I wouldn't have a problem with the article. The problem is that the author then concludes the article by saying:

"When the very anti-stigma campaigns that are supposed to be making the world safer for us actually make it more dangerous, add to our experiences of isolation and dehumanization, well, it's hard to see how coming out would be safe, or good. In that environment, who wants to be the first to put everything on the line in pursuit of a better world?"

Particularly the inclusion of the word "good" implies a normative judgment regarding the merits of choosing the disclose. For all the reasons I enumerated, an individual might choose to disclose. For all these reasons, it may be perceived as "good." We can all agree that disclosing is fraught with risks, but what alternative is then offered other than to imply that silence is preferable because it's safer (which ignores all the suffering that often accompanies that silence)? My point was precisely that no one wants to be the one to put everything on the line. It's an act of courage to do so. And contrary to what you imply, I never said that individuals have to disclose their mental health status, as that's an unquestionably individual decision. It would be as ridiculous for me to say that as it would be for this author to dissuade those who would choose to disclose their mental health status, in favor of some perceived safety in silence. I would applaud this article if it's goal was to analyze those risks and then discuss what the alternatives might be to disclosure. But it doesn't do that. It simply says that disclosure is fraught with risks and can potentially be unsafe, and then makes the leap to saying that these organizations and movements encouraging individuals to come out (most of which are accompanied by the idea of the importance of treatment, that there are people out there who can help you, that it does get better) can hardly be viewed as "good".

Historically, in the face of oppression and injustice, there are those who don't actively oppress, but rather imply that the activities undertaken by those acting on behalf of the oppressed are actually endangering them. It is my view that those who do this can cause significant, though unintentional, damage by reinforcing that silence and providing reasons for those being oppressed to remain silent. I am an individual living with mental illness. Thriving in fact. I work with the mentally ill, and my personal experience informs the work that I do. If my reaction was a bit strong it's because I can only imagine how some suicidal teenager, desperate for help, as I once was, would react to this article. It was with that in mind that I encouraged the writer to take down the article (or in retrospect to perhaps edit it to reflect a more nuanced viewpoint). If my original post wasn't as nuanced as I am normally inclined to be, it is because this is very personal to me and it bothers me when anyone advocates silence over its alternatives, whatever those might be (seeking assistance, advocating on behalf of the mentally ill, selectively choosing to disclose). The lack of nuance precipitated a strong, visceral reaction in me. Perhaps I could have softened my tone, but I'm not the one writing the article, and I'm not the one making normative judgements about what any individual person should or shouldn't do. My point is simply that silence is no long term solution to this problem--a problem we all seem to by sympathetic to. And that insofar as there are adverse consequences to disclosing your status, it is only through a willingness to fight for the rights of mentally ill individuals that things will ever get better. I realize that the author's point wasn't to simply advocate silence. Though, in failing to provide any alternative and concluding that these organizations can hardly be viewed as good, I think they do, in fact, do that. My point is that I think the author does more harm than good in presenting this argument in the manner they do. And I think your accusations regarding my "intellectual dishonesty" are themselves equally intellectually dishonest (I never "demanded" that people put themselves in danger). I never told anyone what they should or shouldn't do. I argued the merits of one point of view and then people can make their own decision. What's intellectually dishonest is saying that disclosure can be harmful without providing any alternative, summarily judging these organizations without even providing an accurate account of what they, in fact, do. And you're right to say that oppression is built into the fabric of our society. We're raised into it, and unless we speak out against it, it gets passed down from generation to generation, ad nauseum. Making the point that disclosing is dangerous is banal at best, and dangerous at worst. I will apologize for making comments about the author, as I'm sure they are, in fact, well intentioned. But I'd challenge them to consider how some young person grappling with suicidal impulses and grappling with the decision of whether or not to disclose would read this article. I can only imagine with more terror, fear, and loneliness than they were already experiencing beforehand. A world where you have to suffer in silence, hiding who you are from those you depend on for love and support is no kind of life at all. And if that individual has any hope of getting better, getting the assistance they need, and moving forward with the recovery process, it will be through a frank discussion of this subject matter with those individuals, to whatever extent that may be possible. Obviously, that requires discretion, tact, and individual judgment. Nothing I said implied otherwise. I just take issue with simplifications of an obviously very individual and very complicated topic.....and as I said, nothing will ever get better or improve through silence.....not for the individual, and not for all those other individuals out there grappling with what can be incredibly difficult thing to cope with and endure.

Hello Matthew, Your work with

Hello Matthew,

Your work with the mentally ill does not give you a right to speak for those of us who have mental health conditions. We're the experts in our own experiences. We are, in fact, right here, and are talking about our experiences as people who *do* grapple with suicidal impulses, amongst other intrusive and violent thoughts, and have to confront the complicated question of whether or not to disclose the nature of our experiences, and to whom.

We're talking about our lived experiences. Please respect that, and consider reading this post as part of a series.

Thank you.

I was saying that my

I was saying that my experiences inform my work, and that I feel very strongly because of my own personal experiences with mental illness, not because I work with the mentally ill. The former informs the latter. Nor did I suggest that I was speaking on your behalf or on behalf of all people who've experienced mental illness, as I repeatedly made the point that mental illness is very specific to the individual and each person must negotiate their own path in their own way. The last thing I want to do is speak for all people in broad generalities as that is precisely what I was criticizing the author for doing, questioning whether these organizations (which do far more than the author implies) can be "good." Though if that's all you took from that entire post, then I think you're completely missing my point. I would suggest that if you've had these experiences, which many of us have, I'm not sure how things will change for the better, how we might be able to prevent this kind of discrimination from occurring in the future, if we're not willing to confront this prejudice and discrimination head on. Things don't change without people willing to advocate and work for that change. I don't expect or demand that anyone do that. But it is something that I do and will continue to do. That's my personal choice, just as you are entitled to your own.

Matthew, I am one of these

Matthew,

I am one of these young people you speak of - again, I couldn't possibly speak for all young people, or all depressed teenagers, or what have you. But I take it that, from your words, there's a generational gap here. And I can tell you right now that s.e. smith's work has never once prompted me to feel worse about myself, and I have certainly been in the situation you describe.

I will disagree with your post in that I do feel like, in your original comment, that you demanded individuals disclose their mental illness. I don't agree that in saying that, I was being intellectually dishonest. I own what I said in response to your first comment. Whilst your second comment does give a different impression, and you do clarify what you meant, I can't possibly have taken that into account when I wrote my reply.

As for the rest of it, I don't particularly feel that rehashing what I already wrote would be particularly conducive to conversation, so I'll leave it as is.

Maybe you can't outright lose

Maybe you can't outright lose your job because of a mental illness, but it can be a major factor for how successful you can be. I work in academia, and I recently began seeking treatment for an eating disorder. Now my uni is trying to force medical leave upon me - and it's because of the ED, not the weight. I had the exact same BMI a year ago when I went in for a physical, and nobody gave me any trouble. Now that I've "confessed" to an ED, they're trying to force leave. Try going up for tenure with a year-long absence! A year of missed teaching, publication, committee work, etc. This is the same reason why so many women in academia choose not to have children - there are serious consequences to the level of success one can achieve.

I DISAGREE

After reading the article in its entirety, i'm utterly disgusted. To say that disclosure is only effective so long as it is safe is to blame the victim: Crimes against people within the lgbt community wouldn't occur if they hadn't "come out." Disclosing your illness is dangerous because it may cost you relationships? People have every right to define their own limits in relationships, and to withhold something that major for fear of being abandoned simply isn't fair. It also isn't healthy, because we all need and deserve to be loved for our whole selves, not just the pretty outer wrappings.

And what about people whose illness is outwardly demonstrative and apparent? I mean, would you tell a paralyzed person to hide in the house because their wheelchair will repulse people? What in the entire hell? Yes, there are dangers, yes, people will try to take advantage of us, yes, people can hurt us, but those same damned vulnerabilities come with just being human and waking up in the morning.

Hi Samirah, I think you may

Hi Samirah,

I think you may have misunderstood s.e. here. What ou is saying (as I understood it, of course) is that coming out as mentally ill can put the mentally ill person at risk. Ou is not saying that anyone should or shouldn't come out, just that there are risks involved.

____________
Kelsey Wallace, contributor

Ask me about our Comments Policy!

ALSO

In regards to the "good crazy/bad crazy dichotomy": being open about our illnesses doesn't intensify the dichotomy, hiding does. To hide is to capitulate to the shame, when we should not be ashamed. When I tell people about my illness, I am most often confronted with responses of "no, you're not mentally ill, you just...fill in the blank." I've learned that the best, bravest, and most important thing that I can do for myself and other people living with mental illness is to be open and honest, and challenge the concept of "crazy." Hiding makes the illness less manageable. It takes over. I refuse to allow it to dictate the parameters of my life. Yes, it is a part of what makes me, but this life is mine. No one should be forcibly outed, we should all take our time. But coming out IS an important part of healing, if we're ever going to live whole and healthy lives. I don't suffer, I don't struggle, I LIVE with this illness. I LIVE with mental illness, and I ain't too proud or too scared to tell you about it.

Well said!

Well said!

Hello Samirah, I am very glad

Hello Samirah,
I am very glad that's worked out very well for you.

For myself, it has not. But I'm glad that your experiences do not apparently involve the abusive consequences of my earlier disclosure.

I'm not ashamed of being mentally ill. I just like being able to keep my job.

I won't echo Matthew or

I won't echo Matthew or Samirah as I feel they've made their points well.

I just want to add this, nobody is saying that the mentally ill should be "outed". One of my personal mottos: Never apologize for how you choose to take care of yourself.
The problem I had with this article was that it encouraged hiding but didn't encourage treatment. Many of the people who are afraid of exactly what you stated, refuse to get treated for mental illness because they don't want to be labeled. Not dealing with illness, or not disclosing your illness does not make the illness go away. It just doesn't. To suggest that keeping quiet somehow helps is incorrect. It hurts because on top of the stress of illness, you're doing your best to make sure nobody knows. Again, I'm not advocating running around saying "We're here! We're mentally ill! Get used to it!". You can be smart about where and when you disclose. That's just commons sense. But again, not disclosing does not make the illness go away. The lack of emphasis on "okay, you shouldn't tell people for the reasons that many people fear however, you should seek treatment anyway is problematic. It's dangerous. It's harmful.

Twenty years ago disclosing that you had HIV would ruin your life. You'd lose friends. you'd lose work. You'd lose everything. It wasn't until people started campaigns and raised awareness about the illness did society as a whole start accepting, started encouraging prevention (not that you can do that with mental illness) and started making treatment readily available. The same can be done for mental illness and scaring people out of seeking treatment is counterintuitive.

I'm a mental health advocate. I am starting a non profit organization called The Siwe Project (Named after a 15 year old who killed herself in July). I write about it constantly (My punctuation skills suck but I have great editors) and one of the recurring subjects that come up in every email or every personal encounter after a public speaking event is "I'm scared that nobody will love me anymore." That is heartbreaking. The work shouldn't be about re-emphasizing that fear. It's about encouraging people to do what they need to do to heal. No trumpet or parades just permission to feel how they feel and not be afraid of that.

The Coming out/LGBT approach is not the way to go. The approach is to raise awareness and educate the people that you suggest we should worry about if we're open. Don't be open. That's absolutely fine everyone has the right to self advocate but don't silence or scare the voices that do speak up in order to help change things.

I agree on the commercial/video you posted. Mental illness is what we have. It's not who we are. And that should be the rallying cry.

This.

Some of the things s.e. mentions here are the reason why, when I was jobhunting earlier this year, I chose to be completely open about my depression and being on medication for it. I chose this route because my case is mild and I have quite a lot of privilege (social status, education, race, family support) to enable me to deal with any drawbacks my honesty may cause me. Not everyone can afford to do so.

I figure, if more people know that they've encountered someone with a mental illness, in a context that's "normal", like the work place, they're going to be less likely to confuse a person with their diagnosis.

mental illness

My favourite words..Never apoligies for keeping yourself safe and healthy... Thanks..I needed that.

Even if it's from in a closet, you could at least cheer for us.

I understand if you don't want to be open about your mental health issues. I apologize if some people are making you feel bad about that and are making you anxious. But please support those of us who are being open. We're trying to make things better. And we're taking a big risk by doing what we're doing. It's difficult enough being open in the hope that people who come behind us don't have to endure the pain that we have. We don't need extra challenges. This is already difficult enough. I understand that you don't want to be open and you're absolutely right that it's a personal choice. But I don't understand what benefit you think there is to spreading fear. Closets are tiny spaces. You're really better off without pushing more people in there.

I have not experienced any stigma yet for being open about my sex addiction and OCD. But I have no doubt it could happen. The only stigma I have experienced repeatedly and to a shockingly massive degree, is from people in the mental health community who stigmatize me for the fact that I'm being open about my mental health issues.

I found your article to be irresponsible in how you presented evidence for your argument. For instance, you suggest that being open about mental health issues in academia can kill a career. Is that based on research or is it just an anecdote--somebody you know or perhaps yourself who had a negative experience? Is it fact that being open about mental health issues will kill a career in academia? Because I have an anecdote that shows that not to be true at all: Recently while doing an interview for an upcoming book on OCD (which includes people speaking openly about their anxiety disorders alongside their names and pictures), one of the participants talked about a professor who spoke openly to her class about her own mental health struggles, inspiring that participant, who was suffering from depression at the time, not only to go and get treatment, but also to continue her dream of becoming a professor. And now she has completed her Masters, is almost done her PhD and is traveling around the world to give talks on her research at conferences, while also being open about her mental health issues. If what you say is true, neither she, nor the professor who inspired her, could have a career in academia. But they do, at fantastic schools. So I'm sorry for whomever it is that your anecdote is about, but it's not fact. It's just an anecdote and presenting it the way you do only feeds irrational fear.

I recently wrote an article on stigma for a youth mental health organization called Young Ones (you can read it here: http://youngones.ca/?page_id=175 ) in which I describe stigma as a tiny squirrel holding a monster mask that we validate as scary because we run from it. Any time you allow fear of an external possibility to control your actions, you are doing something that's mentally unhealthy. It's classic anxiety disorder behavior. It was the last anxiety I had to overcome with my OCD, and it was last because I really believed all sorts of terrible things would happen to me if I was open about my mental health. As often happens with OCD, people convince themselves their avoidance and coping and controlling behaviors are rational, and necessary. And then I realized that my fears of being open were no different than all of the terrible things I feared would happen if I didn't repeatedly check the stove was turned off, or wash my hands until they were raw. Yes, there's a possibility my house could catch on fire. Yes, there's a possibility I could catch a bacterial infection. Yes, there's a possibility that somebody could throw something at me and call me "crazy". But I can't let fear control my life. It's my life, not fear's.

There are many people in the world who discriminate. They discriminate on gender, on sexual orientation, on race, on body size, on height, on likes and dislikes, on hair color, on political beliefs, etc. And is the solution to defeating stigma in any of those areas for the stigmatized person to hide?

How do you think stigma will change? I don't think we can change mental health stigma if we don't put a face on it, if we don't emotionally connect the public to people who are just like them. I believe that only through people meeting people who deal with mental health issues and helping people to understand that we all have brains and we all have varying, improvable levels of mental health, that we will begin to see a change. And to do that, many people have to be open about their mental health. And yes, there's the chance of being stigmatized. It will be tough. It could be dangerous. AND SUCCESS WILL BE AWESOME.

Nobody creates change by focusing on nightmares. Change happens by focusing on dreams.

Thanks to the author and each

Thanks to the author and each commentor. Excellent points made by all. Honest and respectful -- even though strong feelings (quite naturally) held. Glad to see such discussion of this important issue. This is how change starts. I like the story of a child who asked a man "How do you move a battleship?" The man answered, put your finger on it and push, and keep pushing. Eventually the ship will move an inch, then a foot, then a yard...then the ship's own momentum will move the whole ship. This conversation is pushing a battleship, stigma,
that really needs to be moved. Well done!

"Mental illness", drugs and "stigma"

As it is hard to fight the "stigma" of "mental illness", and "mental illness" at the same time, I guess I will just stick to fighting "mental illness". Oops, sorry. I kinda forgot that that one was just a fiction concocted to sell drugs. Oh, well...

"stigma" begins with a "d" and is pronounced "discrimination"

Mental illness sucks but not as much as stigma - and both combined suck less than anti stigma.

The biggest problem faced by those diagnosed with what you call "the big three" is not that around 80% have experienced a difficult life since childhood, struggle every day with living, their basic health, relationships , poverty, violence, homelessness and and poor services - the most difficult thing we face it's what everybody else thinks about us.

We don't talk about people of colour being treated less than equal as suffering from the stigma of skin colour, we don't talk about women being treated as less than equal as suffering from the stigma of being a woman . We call it what it is - its discrimination, plain and simple.

"Stigma" was invented by a system embarrassed that it is bereft of ideas of how to help people suffering- yet another diagnosis - call it the "meta diagnosis" and pile it on top of people who are already amongst the most diss-served in our community: yet more blame piled upon blame to hide the truth that medicine and social services fail them and simply don't have a clue how to help yet want to be seen to act so they can keep the dollars rolling in..

The problem with coming out with a diagnosis is that for the majority part they are not real and do not map to people's experiences , they are also assigned by "experts", not chosen by the person . They are also proclamations of defect and assumed faulty biology, not beliefs, convictions, proclamations of humanity and individual and shared human experience. Not one mental illness diagnosis has a real scientific  basis - and a diagnosis for an individual is arrived at not by clinical tests and biopsy but by ticking boxes on a checklist - they were designed that way to take away clinical skill and human influence and interpretation .

People become ill in ways that get called "mental illnesses" because they are overwhelmed with their lives. Their biology can get skewed up as part of that -as would yours if you lived in similar circumstances of extreme and chronic stressful living but neither their biology nor their genes cause it. No end of medications will fix the fact that a person has experienced oppression and or adversity not of their making since childhood, and had it piled on them every day since.

Don't believe it? check this talk by Prof John Read, a world renowned researcher .
http://recoverynetworktoronto.wordpress.com/2013/11/27/childhood-adversi...

And this one by Prof Richard Bentall
http://recoverynetworktoronto.wordpress.com/2013/09/24/why-society-makes...

Anti stigma campaigns use public money to pay for expensive advertising outfits to create glamour campaigns to advertise stigma. Research shows they don't work and actually, mostly, add to the problem.

Moreover, they also serve as a funnel to get people to come forward, get diagnosed and suffer further from being stigmatized by labels and suffer more from exasperatingly inadequate, coercive and often dehumanizing services that typically offer nothing more than drugs-for-life [if you have a drug plan]. Many people get traumatized or further traumatized by their experience of the services they turned to for help. Not only that, if they do start to feel better they are marked for life when it comes to employment and find themselves trapped in poverty, dependent on services for practically everything, which is really helpful. Of course, if you can afford to pay somehow, then excellent services are available for you but you knew that already.

Its time we faced the difficult truth- our collective understanding of and approach to mental health is juvenile and built on myth. Blaming those people who are given diagnoses is not "fighting" anything, its just blaming some of the most vulnerable people in our society. Blaming people who don't come forward is the lowest of lows. It's also a way of conveniently avoiding facing up to the damage our society can do to lives and the bigger changes we need to make .

"Stigma" is not my shame - its yours, ours and everybody's.When we accept that we can start to move forward and build a society that is easier for everybody to live in.