The following is a guest contribution by Sonja Missio (@sonjamissio).
I have mental health problems.
Like, real ones. Like, ones I’m medicated for daily and have seen shrinks for since I was about 11-years-old. Like, ones that affect me every day, from the way I eat to how I tell time—two very important activities for an Italian-Swiss like myself.
I have been diagnosed as having hypo-mania, with severe anxiety.
I’ve had lows and I’ve had highs (mostly highs) and it has changed my entire life. Now, don’t get me wrong: I eat right, exercise, have a boyfriend/dog/family/friends/job/mortgage/life, etc. etc. But in spite of everything, I am still crazy.
It took me until my mid-20s to get properly medicated and seen by the right specialists. I’ve done sleep studies and CBT conditioning, and even once saw a homeopath (spoiler: it was crap). And now, with the right and constant chemical support—a pill taken every morning—I am a functioning adult who can pass off as normal.
In fact, being crazy is my normal.
And that’s okay, because I have come to terms with it. But that doesn’t mean it doesn’t fucking suck. Being crazy isn’t glamourous or in vogue, nor is it fixable or easy to deal with. Which leads me to the point of this post: Bell Let’s Talk Day confuses me.
I don’t mean the corporate or philanthropic side, nor the execution. It’s a brilliant marketing campaign, but I don’t understand just what it’s marketing.
To end the stigma of mental illness?
Okay. But what’s “stigma” and what’s “mental illness?” Because what I see people talking about are normal human emotions: you’re allowed to be sad and angry at times.
As someone who (in theory) has suffered the “stigma” of “mental illness” (and I am still not sure what that means), I can tell you that we’re talking about the wrong things. First—and not limited to Bell Let’s Talk Day—we glamourize mental illnesses. It’s all positive! Literally turn that sad emoji into a happy emoji (okay, that’s limited to Bell Let’s Talk Day)! And once we talk about it on social media, it all becomes better (and, weirdly, regulated).
Posts like, “depression get better!” and “I understand and accept your mental health problem!” (I am being intentionally vague) is both insulting and hilarious.
Pro-Mental Health Platforms seem to justify normal emotions, which is actually counterproductive for people who suffer under the (once again, very vague) umbrella of mental illness.
You know what would have be helpful for me while I was going through diagnoses? Knowing how my body would get destroyed once I first started taking medication—not that it was thumbs up that I was insane.
If you want to talk about “mental illness,” then talk about it. Talk about the raw, gritty, aspects of it: the breakdown of your mind, body, and consciousness—not this hegemonic, idealized, standard of “it’s okay to be sad!”
Being sad is not the same as having depression. Being nervous is not the same as having anxiety. Being hyper is not the same as having episodes of mania. Experiencing negative emotions is not the same as having chemicals that are imbalanced in your brain and affect every aspect of your life.
“Mental health issues” cannot be destigmatized in a few tweets; they can only be detigmatized if we see them for their superficial value: that they really fucking suck.
We understand the horrific effects of cancer, AIDs, dementia, etc. because we talk frankly about them; we’ve actually destigmatized them (NB: I realize they are not all destigmatized equally. I mean to the point of popular understanding of what they are as diseases); however, we have never, ever talked frankly about whatever mental illnesses are.
Turning a frowny face into a smiley face, or a thumbs-down to a thumbs-up, or having mental health superheroes may make the topic of mental health accessible to the masses, but it marginalizes those who have seen the real side of depression, addiction, mania, anxiety, etc.
To be blunt: the problem is that the current mental health platform appeals to an already acceptable, hegemonic, “normal” standard—which doesn’t appeal to crazy people. The target is impressionable people on social media who briefly think for the day, “Yeah! I get sad sometimes! I must have depression, and that’s okay!”
However (more bluntness), having mental illness is NOT normal and it’s NOT okay. In the same way that having a more “acceptable” illness (ie. cancer, AIDS, dementia) is not normal or okay.
What I mean by this is that having an illness—any illness—is not okay because there is something detrimental to your well-being. It doesn’t make you a bad person for being affected by it, but it’s not “okay” or “normal,” and it has to be dealt with.
Basically, it comes down to this: if you want to end the stigma, treat mental illness like an illness, not a cool Twitter topic. I get that we’re raising awareness, but we shouldn’t try to normalize something that is not normal.
But what the fuck do I know, I’m crazy.
Sonja Missio lives her crazy life in Toronto.