Members of the CarePlus Partial Care Group know firsthand what it is like to deal with stigma. Isolation, loneliness, fear, sadness, victimization…complications of the disease that affects one in four in America.
To help combat some of these feelings, members of the program have created a group called “Activism.” Their goal: spread the word about mental illness and work to help tear down the walls of stigma that haunt those who suffer from the disease.
Laurie Nero, the CarePlus Partial Care Program manager, shared a recent piece created by the group.
Suffering in Silence: The mentally ill speak up
We do not feel that society has given up on us; rather, society has not given us a chance. The inherent fear that society experiences related to people suffering from severe and persistent mental illness has kept our community ostracized from the “outside” world. Stigma against people with mental illness alienates us from being confident enough to become active members of society. Sometimes our symptoms contribute to this form of isolation, however, more importantly; our past treatment in society (even hospitals) has left a deep scar on our lives. We understand that much of our mistreatment is a direct result of a lack of understanding of our illness, symptom, and brain chemistry. We know that people shy away from people that are not “normal” or are “crazy” (crazy is an extremely offensive term to the mentally ill population). We recognize that people become fearful of what they do not understand and do not know.
Sadly, the only time a story about mental illness is relayed to the public is during a mass shooting, murder, or any other heinous crime. We are here to tell you that this is not representative of the entire mentally ill population. As Mulvey noted in 1994, “the absolute risk of violence among the mentally ill as a group is very small. . . only a small proportion of the violence in our society can be attributed to persons who are mentally ill.” In fact, as Hiday, et al. noted in 1999, “People with severe mental illnesses, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or psychosis, are 2 ½ times more likely to be attacked, raped or mugged than the general population.” Therefore, it is fair to say that we are as frightened of the “normal” public as the “normal” public is afraid of us.
Please remember that mental illness was not our choice. We had no control over becoming sick with this illness and we are adhering to all psychiatric interventions possible to control our symptoms. We can only hope that one day we can live in the community without the stares, laughs, and derogatory name-calling. Our hope through writing letters like this one is that we can quell some of the stigma. We have a lot to offer society, if we were only given the chance.