Open Letter to Society by Catherine Stone

Dear society,

People who suffer from mental illness are not second-class citizens. They are not jokes, they are not puns, they are not attention-seekers. Their lives are not worth any less than others’ lives and their illnesses are no different from those labelled ‘physical’, as if though the brain was not an organ as much as the heart, lungs and stomach are. But many, as if oblivious to this fact, look down on the mentally ill and exclude them; are scared of them, mistreat them, humiliate them. And I wonder, why? Why are they degraded, why are they bashed, why aren’t they listened to?

To quote Shakespeare, are they not “fed with the same food, hurt with the same weapons, subject to the same diseases, healed by the same means, warmed and cooled by the same winter and summer” as everyone else? “If you prick [them], do [they] not bleed? If you tickle [them], do [they] not laugh? If you poison [them], do [they] not die?”

Allow me to pose a question here: have you ever heard of Heinrich Himmler? Along with Adolf Hitler, he was the one who plotted to systematically murder eleven million innocent human beings just because they were ‘this’ or ‘that’, just for being who they were. Well, guess what. The infamous author of the Final Solution to the Jewish Question was not ‘crazy’. A psychopath? In all likelihood, yes. But he was not mentally ill. And all those people…the architects who designed the concentration camps; the builders who made them a reality; the officials who ensured these inhumane places kept functioning as ‘effectively’ as they did; the members of the disgusting, morally corrupt Nazi Party; the masses upon masses who took to the streets either to listen to their beloved Führer give his public speeches or to call for the annihilation of gypsies and homosexuals and Jews alike, among several other minorities—were all these individuals mentally ill? We are talking massive numbers here, so many of them probably were. But all of them? Even a majority of them? No, and perhaps that is the most terrifying part of it all: that these tens of millions of ‘sane’ people, when put together, were responsible for one of the most terrible moral catastrophes the world has ever known.

To this I would like to add that the criminals you read about in the papers or see on the news — the murderers, the rapists; most of them are not ‘crazy’. Most of them do not suffer from any form of mental illness whatsoever.

So I suppose it is because of all previously stated that I have always wondered why people seem to be so pre-conditioned to believe that they should be afraid of the mentally ill *just for being mentally ill*, knowing what the mentally sane can be —and in fact were— capable of.

I know I am writing in extreme terms here. Of course some mentally ill patients are dangerous to others. We all know that. But there seems to be a general belief that this small part of the mentally ill population is in fact a majority. And sometimes, writing in extreme terms is the only way to help readers understand just how wrong misconceptions such as this one can be.

You can be bad and suffer from mental illness, but suffering from mental illness does not make you bad. In fact, the stigma associated with these illnesses that pushes so many victims to stay silent out of sheer FEAR until it is too late, THAT stigma is food for their illnesses. It helps the illnesses grow inside of them. If people just spoke openly about mental health, if schizophrenia and mood disorders were taught in schools along with the mechanics of tumours and how to test for breast cancer, if they were taught the signs and symptoms of mental illness from a young age, THOUSANDS of mentally ill children and teenagers could live without shame, THOUSANDS of hospitalizations would not have to take place; THOUSANDS of potential SUICIDES could be avoided. It is not just about acknowledgement or about being kinder or more empathic — this is saving lives we are talking about.

Awareness of mental illnesses and of the pain and limits that they bring to their sufferers is everything. And yet our children are taught how to dissect a frog, but not how to potentially prevent eating disorders; our children are taught Advanced Physics, but not the signs and symptoms of Depression. And still today we maintain the idea of ‘the crazies’, and of them being abnormal, and sometimes —heart-breaking as it may be— even guilty of their suffering.

“Normal” is defined, and tends to be understood as “usual”. And yet, according to research, one in five people will suffer from some form of mental illness, disorder or impairment during their lives.

Mentally ill individuals are not ‘unusual’. Mentally ill individuals are not ‘unusual’ at all.

So please, for their sake, which is everyone’s sake: stop the stigma. Stop the generalizations. Stop hurting them and stop potentially hurting yourselves.

Anyone, absolutely anyone in this world can fall into a form of mental illness at some point in their lives.

So if you won’t do it for them, do it for the people you know. Do it for your families. Do it for your friends.

For Heaven’s sake — do it for yourselves.

Sincerely,

A nineteen-year-old girl

catherinestone

Catherine Stone is a mental health advocate, Psychology student and aspiring writer. She in on Twitter @CathyStone_.
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