A LinkedIn contributor recently posted this discussion topic
I naively began an Indiegogo campaign devoted to mental health and I’ve spread the word far and wide. This is a site for people who are looking for ideas of where to donate funds. A “save the bees” campaign has collected over three million dollars.
My only contributor has been, I kid you not, my own mother.
I really thought with all the media coverage of schizophrenia, effects of bullying, etc., that there would be some people who find mental health to be a valid cause. Are mental health problems so horrible to think about that people don’t want to focus on them? Is there a public perception, as you might find in lung cancer, for example, that the person brought it upon himself? How can we make the public see the importance of finding and treating mental illness?
It’s a good question and I was saddened, but not surprised, by the public response to the appeal for funds. Good for the contributor’s mother, though!
People are scared of people with mental illness
1 I was going to write that people are scared of mental illness, but actually I don’t think that that’s true.
People are scared of people with mental illness.
And they are scared in a way that they aren’t scared of people with a physical illness: a broken leg or even heart disease. I actually think people are scared of people with cancer (but that is down to their fear of cancer itself), but not to the same degree as they are scared of people with schizophrenia.
2 Most people do not know much about mental illnesses, and understand less: few laypeople could give a coherent explanation of schizophrenia or even depression. This is not helped by a generally ignorant media uninterested in publishing anything serious.
People may not have a detailed understanding of cancer or heart disease either but I bet they could describe and understand these illnesses better.
3 I don’t think there is a public view that mental illnesses are “horrible” or, rather, if they have that view, this a consequence of a deeper set of thoughts, beliefs and feelings.
With depression, I suspect there is a common belief that people have brought it on themselves, or don’t have the moral fibre to “pull themselves together”, or could simply “snap out of it” if they chose to. But this refusal to empathise or understand is also a consequence of this deeper set of thoughts, beliefs and feelings.
Mentally ill people look “normal”, but there appears to be something “wrong” with the way they relate to others
Physically ill people often look, well, ill—they have a leg in plaster or they are laid up in bed with a temperature—but, as best as the illness allows them, they relate to others in predictable ways.
So, 4, at root, I think it is just that people with mental illness interact with other people differently than do people without a mental illness. And this is frightening, because it’s unpredictable, possibly alarming, happens in a way that the other person belives they cannot cope with, and is therefore potentially dangerous.
I suspect it is also possible for a “normal” person to see a depressed person and only too easily recognise that, for the grace of God, go they. And it is quite likely that some (many?) people fear that mental illness is contagious in a way that a broken leg isn’t. On learning a couple of years ago that a friend had cancer (now happily healed), I didn’t suddenly worry that, because of his cancer, I was going to contract cancer (I didn’t, and even if I had done I wouldn’t have believed that cause and effect mechanism).
Of course, in some cases, people with a physical illness interact differently with other people than do those people without a physical illness, but in these cases the cause of the altered interaction is evident or believable. (And, of course, in many cases, physical illness, such as type 2 diabetes, doesn’t manifest any noticeable changes in interaction.)
5 The ways that people with mental illness interact with people are often strange, or at least unusual; inexplicable because the “viewer” cannot see any physical symptoms of illness to which they can ascribe the altered interaction. For most people there is literally something “wrong” with people with mental illnesses (because they manifest themselves oddly and inexplicably).
It’s as if, in the absence of physical evidence, people measure the mentally ill person against a not-currently mentally ill person (a “normal” person as they see it) and deduce that the mentally ill person is “wrong”.
6 It doesn’t help that some mentally ill people interact with others not just in a strange way but unpredictably, disconcertingly and sometimes scarily.
7 And, some people with mental illness often do not appear to acknowledge the other person as a person in a conventional way, or at all. For example, a highly depressed person may simply ignore them completely.
8 There is a likelihood that many people do not understand how talking therapies work so that, if the pills don’t work, mentally ill people are beyond the reach of doctors and hence incurable, read uncontrollable.
Points 5, 6 and 7 illustrate point 4. What then happens is that the “man or woman in the street” has expectations about how mentally ill people behave and interact with others, based on inaccurate media reporting—to say nothing of the calumnies perpetrated by the so-called entertainment industries—and possibly their own experiences. They are looking to have these expectations confirmed.
by Jeremy Marchant . thanks to J Lucy Boyd for posing the question . image: Free images