Mental Illness, Are We Being Too Serious?

Here’s my dilemma.  On one hand, I am a Mental Health Advocate and on the other I also live with a mental illness.  I became so outraged at  the portrayal of the mentally ill in Modern Family’s Halloween episode that I immediately jumped on the band wagon to get ABC to apologize.  I hadn’t even seen the episode.  I was going off of another blogger’s take on it…a very well respected blogger.  I finally decided to watch this Halloween episode (today) and I realized something…I was wrong.  Yes, there were some not so nice stereotype portrayals of psych ward patients and yes some not so nice comments.  But, this is the reality we live in.  People have these preconceived notions of the mentally ill and that is something that is very difficult to change.  Now that doesn’t mean we should give up and not try to educate people, but when we immediately go up in arms over something like this I think it does more damage to our cause than good.

Let me explain.  I didn’t agree at all with what was done on Modern Family, but I know I’ve been guilty of using the words “looney bin” a time or two when referring to my hospitalizations.  So, are we saying that it’s okay for those of us with mental illness to use words like this and not others?  I think this is hypocritical.  Sometimes we have to make light of our situation.  It’s a coping mechanism.  If we are making light of it and others see this, they may feel it is okay to do the same.  And really why shouldn’t it be okay?  I think mental health advocates have reached a point where they take things too much to heart.  I include myself in this.  I think when this happens our message becomes lost.  We get so angry that someone said something that was insensitive or portrayed us in such a way that was not appropriate that our whole education platform goes out the window.  I do think ABC could have put something up at the end of the show saying that mental illness is a serious and put up the hotline numbers, but they didn’t.  It was a perfect opportunity for them to educate and they blew it, but the mental health community’s reaction to this was a missed opportunity as well.  We could have come from the approach of “Well, we don’t like what you did, but here’s some information on how to improve upon your portrayal of the mentally ill in the future.”  We did not do that.  We wrote letters saying how bad it was and we made those letters viral.  I’m not saying that was completely wrong of us.  It was just a missed opportunity to educate in a calm manner.

We need to lighten up a bit.  We need to be able to laugh at ourselves and our situation.  It can be so dark at times that a little laughter just might do us some good.  Life is so short and so precious.  We need to release the anger into the universe and approach these situations (irritating as they may be) from a higher ground.  We need to educate.  One way to educate is by sharing your story.  By doing so, someone just may begin to understand and a little understanding is better than no understanding.

Thank you for reading!

16 thoughts on “Mental Illness, Are We Being Too Serious?

  1. Susan, I agree.

    On a related note, I sometimes think that we’ve made it even more difficult to talk about mental illness in our own families/social circles by being so sensitive about the vocabulary used in discussions.

    If the people around us–those we want to be helpful when we’re not doing well–have to walk on eggshells because we’ll become angry if they misuse words, then it’s easier for them to avoid the anger by ignoring the illness altogether. That’s not helpful in educating them about mental illness and it’s not helpful to us, either. I’d rather my family talk openly about my illness than worry about using the wrong words and offending me.

    Liked by 2 people

  2. Janell says:

    Susan, I think the part you said about “sharing your story” is probably one of the best education methods available. Knowing someone’s story in any situation makes it real and brings so much understanding that couldn’t be gained in any other way. It applies to so many things we don’t understand in life or become reactionary to because we don’t truly understand the situation of the person or group we are reacting to.

    Liked by 3 people

  3. I absolutely agree with you – and i was going to write a very similar post myself. I often refer to myself as “crazy” (as do my loved ones – and it really doesn’t bother me. In fact it would probably bother me more if they referred to me as “mentally ill”), and joke about being in the “loony bin” and a bunch of other stuff. I have known people in a multitude of other discriminated groups including ethnicity, sexuality and disability, and they often joked about themselves as well. Their joking, and our laughing with them did not mean we were discriminatory towards them, or supported discriminatory practice. Of course, everyone is different, and boundaries need to be respected. But for some people, myself included, it is kind of like making the best out of a bad situation.

    Like you, I am passionate about mental health advocacy. But I agree that sometimes it is such a dark topic that some lighthearted joking is not a bad thing. It is not something that has ever offended me anyway. Thanks for bringing this up.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. henriettamross14 says:

    I wrote a post a while ago about the word ‘crazy’ which had been used to desribe a ‘Halloween themed night’ on the X-factor television show. I don’t watch the show myself but I noticed immediately how many in the mental health community started jumping up and down over the choice of word – almost like some sort of bizarre linguistic ownership ritual as well as a rather strange notion that in describing Halloween festivities as such, they had been re-stigmatised, which does raise the point of ego and one’s own reality. If the use of the word in any context is somehow inherenty about oneself, then the world from a contextual point tof view must be a very narrow place to live.

    I don’t think this behaviour is helping, I think many are actually perpetuating their own self-stigmatisation and not moving anything forward. As Laura Droege aptly said I above and I quote “If the people around us–those we want to be helpful when we’re not doing well–have to walk on eggshells because we’ll become angry if they misuse words, then it’s easier for them to avoid the anger by ignoring the illness altogether”

    You can’t educate if people have walked away disinterested!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Very well said, thank you! I completely agree with everything you said. Eggshells is no place to live upon. It’s not fair to our loved ones and it’s not fair to us. We have been given these various illness and I believe we’ve been given them for a reason. We need to come from a stand point of calmly educating others. It’s the only way to get things done. Advocacy is fine and dandy, but if we’re not promoting a positive view and coming from a place of understanding others who may not understand us, then nothing will ever move forward.

      Liked by 2 people

      • henriettamross14 says:

        You’re welcome. So glad I came across your blog. Already been having a wander around, some great posts and I really appreciate your positivity. Eggshells are certainly not comfortable, especially when one sits down 😉 I think you hit on (yet another) valid point there, re understanding – it’s not a one way street. If those of us with MI are not prepared to try and understand those without mental illness, how can we expect understanding for ourselves. Just maybe those living ‘without’ have insights to offer us too but of course, this flies in the face of ‘experts in experience’. It’s really about humanity, but that seems to have been forgotten.

        Liked by 1 person

  5. Using terms like ‘looney bin’ does depend on context. If as a mental health patient we use it in a jokey way to us cope it’s not bad at all. If people use the term in a mindless or derogatory way then it’s a problem.

    Many years ago I was surprised that my Jamaican friend called his other Jamaican friends ‘Nigga’. Both parties don’t mind so it’s ok. It’s not hypocrisy for them to not like that word being used in a derogatory way. Obviously as a white person I’d never use that word as a sign of endearment as it’s known to be very offensive!

    Words are all about context. Swear words are a classic example. A friend might joke when their friend has done something amusing and clumsy by saying “You f#@$ing idiot” and they both laugh. However if someone goes up to a person they don’t know and says the same thing it’s inappropriate.

    I do agree that our reactions to things can be an overreaction at times which turns people off from positive dialog. Telling people off often reduces their empathy and their understanding.

    You make some excellent points and we should all talk about the best strategy to take when television shows or others are derogatory in some way.

    All I would say is that most social change like gay rights and fighting racism have been moderately successful. I wonder what we could learn from those causes?

    Your article made me think. They are the best articles 🙂

    Thanks for sharing

    Liked by 1 person

  6. I too have found myself using words like crazy, or looneybin, or statements such as the weather is bipolar or the book is written a little schizophrenic. Maybe, we who deal with mental illness who use such words or phrases stop saying them then we can set an example to those who don’t struggle with a mental illness.

    Liked by 2 people

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