By John Dunn
Hello fellow readers! Welcome back to my monthly column regarding basic human virtues. As we proceed into the higher psychological virtue of justice–especially social justice–I will talk about the injustice of stigma in mental health from my personal experience. Furthermore, I feel that most situations involving stigmatic perspectives or language are unintentional and perhaps even subconsciously rooted in nature. Unfortunately, the roots of stigma have simply become ingrained in our behavior. In this article, I shall reflect on three examples of stigmatic behavior and then demonstrate the importance of educating members of our society attempting to increase mental health awareness, these are:
- Conformity, and
The first area I wish to address, stereotyping, involves making a judgment about an individual based on the generalization of a single or relatively few characteristics. A primary example of this form of stigma can be found in the fact that I am very open about my mental illness. This revelation has led more than a few individuals I am acquainted with to make false assumptions regarding the validity and the intelligibility of my input based completely on the population I belong to. These assumptions, which are prevalent throughout contemporary society, have been intensified by the fact that I have the tendency to talk in “circles” because I relate primarily to the “big picture” of mental illness, which involves a high awareness of the intersectionality of its components, and the fact that I try to express my unique understanding of some very abstract concepts. These judgments regarding my speech patterns cause me to feel as though certain individuals attempt to confine me to certain means of self-expression. Fortunately, I have discovered the art of poetry as a means of self-expression.
Regarding the stigmatic behavior of conformity, I would like to draw an analogy to various religious traditions. I have found that certain individuals attempt to convert me to their personal belief systems. You may have encountered this characteristic in attempts by various individuals to evangelize about their faith to you. I perceive this type of behavior as an attempt by these individuals to make me conform to their belief system and/or way of thinking. However, I am so firmly grounded in my personal identity (which has grown out of my faith) that I feel no need to conform to the standards of society regardless of its judgments or accepted belief systems. Because of my faith (which I have reflected on in “Reflection: Finding Faith in Crisis”) I have succeeded in increasing my self-esteem and confidence as indicated by my health care professionals who recognize that although I have a unique worldview, my thinking is clinically sound and valid.
The third and final act of stigma which I shall present is the act of discrimination which occurs when an individual acts upon a judgment base on stereotypes. I have experienced this act of stigma personally one time when a friend of mine, upon reflection over my input to a certain conversation, commented that I appeared to babble as I talked in circles as I expressed my thoughts on a rather complicated issue. Subsequently, he virtually dismissed my input. This–perhaps subconscious–decision to act upon his judgment was an act of discrimination. Although this was only a single conversation in our friendship, which I feel is a strong relationship, reflects the subtlety of stigmatization.
Raising awareness of mental health issues and continuing the fight against stigma is a complicated and ongoing battle which involves every individual in society. As such, I have only microscopically touched on personal experiences of this enormous social injustice. Currently, I am compelled by my conscience to continue my struggle against stigma at least on a personal level, develop deep friendships with various individuals attempting to come to a mutual understanding and acceptance of our unique personalities and mindsets, and deepen my faith in my higher power to strengthen my defense against the effects of stigmatization.
I realize that these are only my reflections on my understanding of stigma from a unique worldview; however, I warmly welcome any other perspectives or comments from other worldviews regarding these issues. If you feel as though you might have anything to add, please feel free to email me at firstname.lastname@example.org.
John began his journey over twenty-five years ago with a psychotic break in which he experienced several religious thoughts and delusions which were out of touch with reality or true spirituality. Throughout the years following his diagnosis as an adult who struggles with schizoaffective disorder, he has received formal education in religious studies and philosophy while praying and studying the “big picture” of mental illness and the “bigger questions” of life. Through his religious studies courses he received an understanding of his inner being which includes his diagnosis as well as the “big picture” of how he would feel if he were mentally and emotionally stable. Through his education in philosophy, he came to an understanding of how to reach this state through a logical approach to his therapy. It is his desire to share this journey which he will continue throughout the remainder of his mortal life with his audience.