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Breaking Stigma Through Awareness

By: Tosha Maaks

I get to speak with a lot of different types of people every day. It often comes up that I am a mental health advocate; most of the time I get very positive responses. I will hear things like “thank you for the work you do” or “we need more people like you.”

However, occasionally there will someone who says something that without knowing they are doing it, will offend me by making a comment that speaks of those with mental health issues in a negative light. Recently I was talking to a gentleman and I said I was a bipolar advocate but he didn’t know that I personally had the disorder. He said, “I am so glad you help those crazies, they just seem to keep going around shooting up places.” I just sat in my seat dumbfounded and couldn’t believe my ears. I was in shock that he could be so uneducated about the subject and much less that he could be so insensitive.

I quickly ended the conversation and made a point to talk to him soon after I had calmed down, but before I could do so I found myself caught in another conversation with the guy where he said yet another comment. We were discussing weight and diets and he mentioned the women at his work always being on a diet and he says, “I think it’s all in their heads, but maybe I am just too judgmental, or am I just being mental all together?”

I was at this point done with this man and the conversation again. Not once but twice he had been derogatory about mental health in conversation and if this was how he thought of people with mental health issues I couldn’t let him know I struggled with mental illness.

It is May and that means it is Mental Health Awareness Month. I think it is the perfect time to talk about things such as thinking about how you discuss mental health around those you may not know have mental health issues. This guy didn’t know he was offending me because he didn’t know I struggled with mental health, but no one should need to feel offended ever because no one should speak of mental health issues the way he did.

I shouldn’t have to hear mental illness being used as a negative adjective. It isn’t a negative adjective. It is an illness. That is why the month of May is so important. It is the month we let the people like this man know that normal everyday people like myself have mental health issues like bipolar disorder and live with it well in recovery but we still struggle. They may just not be able to see it like those who may not be well and may need some extra help. No matter what, it doesn’t give them the right to use mental as an adjective.

Mental health as a negative adjective is offensive. If I can bring awareness to anything this year in May’s Mental Health Awareness Month it is this. I don’t want anyone to ever feel as badly as I felt when this man said these things to me. Please be kind with what words you use when you speak you never know who you may be speaking too.

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