Day fourteen of the 30 Days of Mental Illness Awareness Challenge asks:
Have you ever experienced stigma?
“Mental illness is a figment of your imagination. It doesn’t exist.
You’re just being lazy, selfish and not working hard enough,”
~ My abuser, 2007 ~
This quote has reverberated around my mind since it was first spoken to me during a phone conversation six and a half years ago. Her words caused me to bottle up my emotions and hide my experiences for fear of other people judging me in the same light.
This is what stigma does; it forces someone into hiding, it forces them to question who they are and, ultimately, isolates them from a society that could (and should) help them.
Being someone with mental health problems…
Several months after I began writing this blog, in mid-2008, I began noticing that people were finding my blog by typing variations of my name into search engines. At the time I found it odd that people were doing this, especially as they were typing in my middle name (or middle initial), which very few people know. It didn’t take long for me to work out (with the added benefit of being able to see the ISP location of the people searching) that these searches were being conducted by people I had recently interviewed for a job with. Needless to say, I never heard from these people again.
Granted, I have no firm evidence for the above, but the coincidences involved are too great for me to ignore. Just as my friends fleeing as fast as they could shortly after my breakdown, never to be heard from again, is too coincidental for me to chalk up to chance.
However much I dislike being the recipient of this sort of stigma, when it comes to mental health, the one aspect I cannot abide is when mental health services discriminate against someone with mental health problems. To be told that I should have understood the complexities of my sister’s mental health problems (when I was twelve) and that it was my fault that I allowed it affect me the way I did; to be told that there was nothing wrong with me; to be told that I was fabricating everything that ever happened to me; to be told I was play-acting mental illness in order to escape homelessness; to be told that I didn’t deserve to have children; all of which made me feel far more alone and isolated than my abuser’s comment ever did.
Being someone who was homeless…
During my time on the streets I was refused service from several shops and food outlets who informed me they didn’t serve “people like me”, I was continually judged as being an alcoholic, a drug user and a criminal, simply because I didn’t have anywhere to live and people would spit on me, pour coffee over me or attack me whenever they felt, as if me being homeless gave them the license to treat a human being in such a despicable manner.
And, much like with the mental health services outlined above, there were even homeless services – organisations whose sole aim was to help those less fortunate – who discriminated against me; refusing me assistance because I didn’t share the same religious values that they did or because I wouldn’t admit to my (non-existant) drug problem.
Being someone who was a victim of abuse…
As a male victim of abuse, the level of victim blame mentality I’ve received over the years is epic; friends who informed me I deserved to be treated the way my abuser treated me, housemates who told me I deserved to be beaten for being the victim of an abusive relationship and more individuals than I can count (both personal and professional) who will not believe I was sexually assaulted, simply because I am a male victim of multiple forms of abuse.