Like many people living with mental illness, I get asked a lot of questions. Many of them are well thought out and lead to further education about mental illnesses and a better understanding of those of us who live with them. But a select few of the questions aren’t well thought out. They are, in fact, dumb questions. As a professional, I answer them with a smile on my face because that has a lot of value. But inside my head, I always come up with much better answers. Fun answers. Snarky answers . . .
Are you like that person with mental illness I saw on TV?
Yes, because people on TV are just like people in real life. My mom and dad were exactly the same as Mike and Carol Brady. Right down to the AstroTurf lawn.
In fact, TV and movies are so representative of real life that if you roll your truck down a mountain — no doubt after a high speed chase involving lots of “sick drifting, dude”– not only will it explode, but you will walk away without so much as a scratch on you.
The day that we start learning about life from pop culture is the day we’ve abandoned learning altogether. Fish can’t talk, there are no superheroes, and television is for entertainment, not education. Unless the person was watching a documentary, which is almost never the case, they are comparing us to some caricature of a person, not someone who exists in real life.
I get you have mental illness, but when will you get over it?
I get that you’re an idiot; when will you get smarter?
Small changes could make this question not dumb at all: Is there a cure for mental illness? Can a person with mental illness lead a normal life? Will a person with mental illness be in treatment forever? A five year old could ask this question better. Use a flipping “I” statement, will you?
Did you take your mental illness medication today?
This question is both annoying and condescending. It is almost always asked after explaining to a person that they are irritating me or doing something I want them to stop. The conversations generally go something like this:
Me: Dude, why are your stanky socks on the counter?
Them: I was eating Chinese and didn’t feel like moving them.
Me: They’re soaking in sweet and sour chicken! That’s disgusting!
Them: Dude, chill out. Did you take your meds today?
I should say that if your family member, roommate, or bestie knows you are forgetful and is just reminding you, then we clearly don’t need to give them the snarky treatment. We need to use our snark responsibly.
Aren’t all people with mental illness violent?
If you really thought that was true, you wouldn’t risk asking me. I might snap and eat your face.
Critical thinking skills matter, folks. The idea that all people with mental illness are violent should immediately ring false. Consider that the violent crime rate would be fantastically high. If one in five people experience a mental health crisis in a given year, that would mean, at any given time, at least 20% of the population would be actively violent – and that just isn’t the case.
Think Snarky, Don’t Speak Snarky
As much as I’d love to let my snarky personality shine when the dumb questions start flying, I really do see real value in not making people feel poorly for asking them. An offensive or dumb question followed by a snarky answer doesn’t really give us the opportunity to educate people about our illness. Even so, while professionalism has its value, we must embrace humor as healthy. If I can’t laugh at what society thinks about people with mental illness, I would cry. And no one wants to see a 275–pound, red-headed man with snot and tears running down his face.
Although some of you would think that was hilarious.
Related reading: What All Mental Health Advocates Need to Do. No snark, but practical advice to ensure your message is heard.