The Scarlet Letter of Disability and Mental Health

 I usually only write once a week. However, I wanted this out, and I didn’t want to publish it Christmas Eve.  I wanted it out before I forgot, before it no longer had the cultural touchstone of another mass murder.  I wanted it out of me because I feel the weight of the media driven perceptions of all those with mental health conditions.  I suspect I will one day join the ranks of those about whom a generation of perceptions is now being formed.

Illness brings a stigma in our society, a scarlet letter if you will.  In an effort to be politically correct, people feel bad blaming those with obvious physical ailments.  Everyone understands those, or thinks they do.  Still, there is often a perception of special treatment even if it is mitigated by the thoughts that those afflicted made no choice and in fact did nothing to merit the condition.  Because there is a thought it could happen to any of us, we accommodate to the best of our ability. “Do unto others as you would have done unto you.”  We generally act how we think we would like to be treated, when we take the time to think.  It’s only in the initial blink or unthinking comment or feelings of our own merits being secondary to the disabled when we have the resentment so commonly felt by the disabled.
The stigma on those with mental health issues is far worse.  People can’t see the illness, only the actions.  There is a fundamental belief/value in our culture of taking responsibility for our actions.  The problem with the mentally handicapped is they often have no more control over their thoughts and actions than the boy born without legs had in his physical condition.  As I see it, the perception of those living in Wellville about being responsible only for one’s actions breaks down here, and with this breakdown empathy and understanding are often lost.

Without empathy and understanding, society is quick to condemn.  “Why would they do that?” quickly becomes society’s cry.  Without understanding, fear and outrage come easily, and the target is unspecified.  Without empathy, why should anyone care what triggered the disturbed?  We care only when we understand and approve of the cause like post traumatic stress from a war experience.  If we don’t know the why, we judge the actions and then from them expand the pattern we think we’ve recognized to any  with a condition we think is similar.

It’s here where the sad media does a disservice to all others with the same condition.  There is so little to help society recognize a different pattern.

Towards that end, I would implore all to break the pattern.  Weave a different tapestry from which future generation can gain insight.  Live out loud and where ever possible let the stories of your efforts and trials be known regardless of outcome.


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