I was watching a recent episode of ABC’s The Bachelor and there was a heated scene between two contestants, Nicole and Onyeka, where Nicole accused Onyeka of calling her “mentally unstable” when really she had referred to her as “emotionally unstable.” For whatever reason being called mentally unstable versus emotionally unstable seemed worse – more offensive.
I gave it some thought and I think this goes beyond stigmatization. When I think of the word mentally unstable, a DSM diagnosis comes to mind. I think the person needs medication, or has a mental health treatment history. When I think of the word emotionally unstable I think the person might have experienced trauma in their life, or due to environmental circumstances in their life, they have been left emotionally scarred. It’s kinda like nature versus nurture.
Having said that, I’m going to tread lightly here cause people have gotten sensitive in the past when I discuss personality disorders. I am not saying that someone with emotional issues has a personality disorder persay, however, sometimes depending on the depth of trauma a person endures in their life, among other factors, it can result in having a personality disorder. In my experience, it is my opinion that personality disorders are not so prevalently discussed and often times met with confusion and a sense of what do I do? They too are stigmatized but not in the same way a mental illness seems to be. They are more of a hush hush thing or a misunderstood condition.
I’ve worked in acute inpatient settings with treatment teams that handle discharge planning, and placing a patient in an institution that has a personality disorder had been way more challenging feat then someone with a mental health disorder. Similarly, I have worked with families dealing with members that suffer from personality disorders, and their struggles are more often times are far more challenging than families managing mental health disorders. Having said that, when the show presents mental health issues more extreme or worse than suffering emotional issues, the contestants miss the mark. However, most of our culture might have too for, like I said, emotional issues that may result in personality issues is not so prevalent of a discussion across all boards of society.
So although being called mentally unstable somehow was presented in the show as worse than being called emotional unstable, for me, being emotionally unstable might fall under the umbrella of potentially have a personality disorder which can be a much harder condition to manage. There are no concrete drugs out there to treat personality disorders. You can’t just pop a pill to change your personality. You can, however, take an anti-depressant to help balance your brain if you’re Bipolar and suffer from depression, so, I think we need to better understand and educate ourselves on the terminology when it comes to presenting mental heath stigma in popular culture.
Now I want to be clear here, I am not saying that this particular contestant has a personality disorder, nor a emotional issue, nor a mental condition, I am merely pointing out the fact that she was sadly labeled, and through that label there was stigma attached that presented somewhat of a hierarchy in conditions. We all have issues, and if you think you don’t have an issue, well, that’s an issue.
Needless to say, I’m not a fan of “Bachelor Nation,” so to speak, it just happened to be on in the background and I tuned in when I heard them bickering over the matter. But if it gleans such a huge audience, I would hope we could have a cultural conversation on these terms, and further examine why one word or label hits harder than the other. I know when the producers cast the show they look for particular personalities. The contestants go through psychological testing among other qualification, yet, we don’t learn from their obvious exploitation of vulnerable women and how it can be a teaching tool for the viewers. And to see the stigma of mental illness unfold right before my eyes, with such an attack on “mental” versus “emotional” instability, I realize how much education we lack. But I also realize how ignorant people can be. I suppose it’s not the contestants fault that they don’t know the difference between mental and emotional struggles but, at the very least, it manifests the stigma attached to such terms.
The Bachelor can be more than a medium to cultivate drama at the heels of a dozen women. Do I expect our thirst for drama and watching conflict to change in reality television? No, but I can offer this article to those that watch these shows. Pay attention to how stigma unfolds, and maybe you’ll see the show through a different veil.