Yesterday, on the Bipolar Hot Mess Facebook page, there were some comments that were not so nice. And I’m not talking about just one comment, but many, which left me feeling really conflicted because what I had hoped would be a more educational thread turned into something very far from that.
The original comments said that mental illness is just an excuse and that we need to “get over ourselves.”
Being a mental health blogger and advocate, I’ve heard these types of comments before, even by significant people in my life. Of course, if you or a loved one have a mental illness, one’s immediate gut reaction is to take offense because as we know so well, mental illness is NOT an excuse, but does exist and there is quite a lot of science and research to back that up. However, since I have seen these types of comments before, I am not offended by them, but see them as just an opinion of someone who is ignorant on the subject. (By ignorant I mean not being educated about the facts that pertain to mental illnesses).
One of the reasons I chose to start my website/blog was to help support those who have mental illnesses and to educate whomever might want to learn about them, be it themselves or to better understand a friend or loved one. When I saw those comments, I made the decision to try to utilize the situation as a perfect opportunity to educate. So, after reading the comments, I,
- Began a response stating that I was sorry they felt that way, but mental illness is absolutely something real and it appears they are ignorant on the subject;
- Continued on to say that there is a lot of science that shows the different things that go on in the brain to cause them and chemistry and medications are used to help; and
- In hopes of getting additional responses that would be helpful to those who might be offended by such comments and would support my response that comments like these are ignorant and untrue, are quite common, and if someone believes that, they need to be educated, I reached out to some fellow advocates.
In my mind, I was hoping that seeing more responses that would indicate that this person needed to be educated and that these comments, while common, should NOT be given any merit or weight which could possibly hurt the progress one had been making in their journey to recovery and acceptance of their illness and should ABSOLUTELY NOT let that reinforce fears about opening up about their illness because of the possibility of that response. I was hoping that this situation would help everyone see that we still have a long road ahead of us in educating and stomping out the stigmas and negative assumptions that are associated with mental illnesses and when something like that is said, it should NOT be taken to heart, but should be looked at as an opportunity to educate. If they do not want to be educated, then we must chalk it up to ignorance and continue moving forward. DO NOT let it stop you.
Boy, was I WAY OFF when I thought of that. Instead of my “perfect educational opportunity,” it became
- A thread with a lot of insults and name calling;
- Politics and public schooling became platforms; and
- A page that was supposed to help people feel comfortable and supportive did the exact opposite. While the comments were offensive and ignorant, instead of trying to help that person understand why those comments were offensive, we attacked them like they were a piece of meat thrown into a lion’s den at dinner time.
Yes, I do take responsibility for asking for people to comment on those statements. However, I never thought that my intentions for support meant “attack.” Yes, the comments were offensive, but unless we educate as to WHY they are offensive, how are those that believe those ignorant statements ever going to learn the facts?
If we immediately “attack” when things are said that are untrue or that we don’t believe in, then we create a place that people will not feel comfortable expressing their thoughts and opinions. I understand that we are passionate about things that affect us, or are part of us, and at one point in my life, I probably would have had the same initial reaction. But, as my role as an advocate has deepened, I have learned that sometimes I need to take a step back and think about how I can help the situation in a positive way.
I am not perfect, and I take responsibility for letting the thread continue for as long as it did without speaking up, and for that I do feel badly.
For the record, I do believe the statements that mental illness is just an excuse and that we should get over ourselves are offensive to people with mental illnesses, but how did ridicule and attack show that those statements are NOT true? What did we do to bring true facts to the situation?