Hi. I am ElainaJ and I am here to talk about stigma while being beautifully bipolar. That is right. I am beautiful and I have bipolar disorder. See how that is possible? I can be both. I am not some ugly monster jumping from your theater or television screen. I am just another chick trying to wander through this exceedingly tricky life the best way she knows how.
I’ve just finished reading an article in a TIME magazine special edition about mental illness. This particular article focused on stigma, something I feel passionate about. Words aren’t just words. They hurt people. I found myself welling up with tears when I read that a 2013 survey found that 46% of Americans believed that persons with serious mental illness are “far more dangerous than the general public.” I mean, that is me they are talking about. I have a serious mental illness (and several others mental illnesses to boot)! But I am not violent towards others. Sure, I get angry like anyone else but I do not resolve some plot to get back at my neighbor by shooting them. And as for guns, I cannot own one and that is fine with me. That law keeps me alive.
Mental illness is akin to committing crimes in some peoples’ minds, regardless of how ignorant that is. But it is hard to grow up thinking differently when media is shouting it from the rooftops – “Run! Run! She’s crazy!” Loss of control by the individual who is mentally ill is what others identify in us.
“One study of prime-time programming in the U.S. found that half of all mentally ill characters are shown hurting others: 1 in 4 kills someone.” – states the TIME magazine article written by David Bjerklie.
It was striking to learn that even Disney perpetuates mental health stigma. In a study of full-length animated feauture films from 1937 to 2001, 85% of them contained references to characters with mental illnesses. “Loony bin,” Dopey,” “nutty as a fruitcake,” all find their way into the Disney vernacular. This instills in children a belief system of those living with mental illness at a very young and formative age, and it is not a right or fair one. It lays a foundation for stigma.
So, what can we do about this? We can use learn about mental illness, either our own or that of someone we care for. What we learn, we can share. That is why I wrote my book, There Comes A Light: A Memoir of Mental Illness, to share what first-hand knowledge I had about living with mental illness. It is what we must do. When we hear someone make a snide remark or an incorrect assumption about us, we should feel valuable enough to stand up for ourselves. I was recently in such a position. I was shopping at the bookstore and the guy with me red the name of a book and said, “Bipolar? Ha! I am always happy.” I should have told him then and there that I was bipolar, but I just met the guy and didn’t want to ruin something.
Breaking down the walls that surround stigma up high on its hill is our job. Even if it is only pebble by pebble, if each of us became a face of mental illness think how things might change. Maybe instead of thinking we were all dangerous they would start to see the creativity a lot of people living with bipolar disorder possess.
I know, like most movements eradicating mental health stigma won’t happen overnight, but it can improve. I try hard to work towards advocacy and obviously stomping out stigma is a big deal to me, but I can’t do it alone. I need fellow mentally ill warriors, others who are beautifully bipolar.