It’s Schizophrenia Awareness Week. And I want to take a moment to talk about labels. One in four adults in the United States have a mental illness. That means, when you are sitting on the subway the person on either side of you likely is affected by depression, anxiety, PTSD, or schizophrenia. One would think that because mental illness is so common, human beings would be used to interacting with people who manage these chronic conditions.
Listen to the language I’m using. Chronic conditions, mental illness. Aren’t we forgetting something? Every human being that has a label attached to them is…guess what? A human being.
I want to talk about schizophrenia. Schizophrenia is one of the most stigmatized mental illnesses. Recently, there have been studies to indicate that it may be a brain disease.
What are we not talking about here? We’re not addressing that the majority of the population hears “paranoid schizophrenia” and they assume that the person affected by the disease is homeless, a criminal, a murderer, or dangerous in some fundamental way. I expressed this outrage to my own psychiatrist.
“How can people treat other human beings so poorly? Why are they so judgmental?”
“I don’t know,” he said. “It’s wrong. And the truth is, paranoid schizophrenics are the gentlest people you will meet. They are perceived as dangerous when they are only trying to protect themselves.”
Everything is about perception.
Look around you. You probably couldn’t tell if that man walking down the street is living with paranoid schizophrenia, but he is. And he’s wearing a suit, and he’s going to work. The face of paranoid schizophrenia shifts and changes and it doesn’t look one way.
Labels are for the back of t-shirts, not people.
Speaking of people, I want to tell you about my soul mate and business partner, Allie Burke. She is the Vice President of an internationally recognized non-profit organization called Stigma Fighters; she is a best-selling author; she is a friend, a cat-owner, a vape-enthusiast, and she is a phenomenally attractive redhead. She lives with paranoid schizophrenia.
Do you want to run away from her?
Those two words…
They don’t define her.
She is a beautiful person who copes with visual and auditory hallucinations.
She is a genius.
She is loyal.
She is hilarious.
She likes naps.
She is just Allie.
When you judge anyone based upon the words “paranoid schizophrenia,” you are judging my friend and you will have to come through me first. I’m taking out my sword and I will cut you with my words. We do not have to take this treatment anymore. We are human beings are we will not be defined by our diagnoses.
So embrace it.
Love people for who they are.
Labels are for cereal boxes.
Sarah Fader is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization that encourages individuals with mental illness to share their personal stories. She is an author and blogger, having been featured on Psychology Today, The Huffington Post, HuffPost Live, and Good Day New York.
Sarah is a native New Yorker who enjoys naps, talking to strangers, and caring for her two small humans and two average-sized cats. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.
Visit Sarah at www.sarahfader.com.