Killing the stigma, the Defective way....
(reducing mental health stigma through equalization)
By TAIC, October 9th, 2017


Those with mental health issues or diagnosis feel the effects of stigma, whether real or imagined, as a member of a looked-down-upon community of misfits and defectives. It's easy to rely on this feeling of victimization to build solidarity and to blame “the others”, or “normies”, as they're often called on the inside. Current culture tells us to fight stigma, but never explains how. Without a gameplan, the concept of fighting stigma is just a concept, reduced to a bumpersticker of well-intended but nearly-meaningless words.

The first thing that our community does is blame. The media. Big pharma. The church. The government. Whatever. What has blame ever solved? Exactly. Save that shit for drunken conversations with your friends. Here, in the real world, that doesn't fly.

The second step usually taken is to tell people to stop. uh...yeah, that works. I personally like stats that reflect success and numbers above zero. Unfortunately, current culture supports the concept of telling people what to do when you disagree with them, along with the one-two punch of feeling pleased with yourself for doing good (even though you might be an asshole in the process) and feeling like your target should actually change and start upon a new and improved outlook creating a new pattern of action, despite you having no right or jurisdiction over them and not actually engaging in conversation, so there's no real method to transfer knowledge or understanding. No wonder everyone is loud these days, but change is non-existent or slow at best.

Here's the concept behind stigma reduction through equalization:

Firstly, we really need to look through the eyes of those we feel are stigmatizing us and our conditions, to see what they see and understand where they're coming from. What are they afraid of? That's an easy one. Unpredictability. Unpredictability and lack of familiarity. Basically, the fear of the unknown. This idea is so well documented, that Buddhists have a saying that goes back literally thousands of years, that puts it very simply: “Where there is 'other', there is fear.”

There's one predominant mental image of mental illness, the accidental poster child for our whole community – and, we're all familiar with this archetype: the homeless man, dirty, shouting at people that aren't there, and with jerking arm movements that are easily translated into potentially violent motions. He's the guy that you cross the street to avoid.

We are animals. Smart monkeys at best. For better or worse, and often each at different times depending on circumstances, we have these leftover traits called instincts. I like to call them the Four Fs...and these four questions are the instant judgments we make for survival:

Are you FOOD?
This should be self-explanatory for most of you....and the rest of you scare me.

Are you a FRIEND?
An ally? Someone I can trust? Someone with whom I can mutually co-exist?

Are we gonna FUCK?
Are you a potential mate? Is there attraction/chemistry?

Are we gonna FIGHT?
Are you an enemy, a rival, or posing a danger to me or my family?

When we see someone acting unpredictably, we usually rule out the FOOD and FUCK components right away. The FRIEND and FIGHT lines, however, are the lines that are blurred – and that's where the trouble comes in. We're left feeling uneasy, on-guard, and generally wary until more information comes to direct us in how we should act and how to categorize and think of this person.

People with controlled symptoms, or without mental illness altogether, that have physical ailments that cause them to have muscle spasms get targeted the same way. If I walk by so-and-so's desk, am I gonna get hit/kicked by a limb acting autonomously?

Think about this for a minute. Think about feeling unsure, unsafe, uncertain of a situation where you feel that harm could come to you. Walking down a dark street. Walking to your car at night from a friend's house or business. Dropping something off for someone in a questionable part of town. Anything that would give you cause for concern, and anyplace that could make you feel uneasy.

Now, let's go back to our original premise – People stigmatize mental health issues and their owners because of the unpredictability and lack of familiarity. Again, this is fear of the unknown.  It is natural, and instinctual.  Our job here is to make the "unknown" known in a way that it gets equalized, smoothed out, accepted as within the range of normalcy - even if only because it is now "known".

We are not going to easily make a difference with the perceptions of the outliers – the ones at the extreme edges of our mental illness bell-curve. Those that are truly perceived as dangerous will be avoided. Those that are of the highest-functioning strata will still fly under the radar. It's the rest of us – the bulk and the belly of the bell-curve – the ones that function to some degree or another within the confines of society, with standard societal expectations put upon us. Those societal expectations come with the additional societal expectation that we're “normal” too. It's when this is challenged, either by admission, by outing, or by a lapse in symptom management, that there is “other” among them, and the fear creeps in.

What they're not realizing is that mental illness, to some degree, IS the norm....and THAT is where this concept comes in. If you show someone how 'normal' it is, then the fear lessens. And, with that fear, the stigma that goes along with it. The big issue is that people don't always self-identify, and don't want to be outed, leaving them secretly suffering in hopes that the stigma doesn't befall them. Little do they realize that if everyone who self-identified as having some sort of mental illness spoke up, that we'd have the majority. We'd have a strong community. None of us would feel like we're the only ones suffering. We could empower eachother by giving hope that recovery works and that people with their same diagnosis have gone on to do great things and leap obstacles that once seemed like tall and impenetrable brick walls.

This is where this magazine excels.

Authors and artists are asked to specify their diagnosis, along with their submissions. Why? So the reader can see that people with that diagnosis are capable of this talent, this expression, and can have their works published online and in print. When someone sees this, they are empowered. Why? Because the original paradigm is rewritten. Instead of seeing someone thought negatively of, and identifying similarly, the 'they're hated; me too!' moves to that of success – 'they're talented, cherished, respected, loved, awesome; ME TOO!' That's our hope, anyways.

 

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