The Stigma of Mental Illness - Part 2

What is it that makes us fearful of the unknown? The strange? The other?

It makes sense that most of us are frightened of large predators, poisonous animals, deep bodies of water, and exceptional heights. All of those things could cause us significant bodily harm or even death.

But why be afraid of another human? We share 99.9% of our DNA with one another! The answer lies in our evolutionary past.

We are naturally fearful of what we cannot see; descended from hunter-gatherers who assumed that every rustling sound in the bushes indicated the presence of a bigger, badder animal. Those that thought, “I’m sure it’s nothing” did not contribute to the future gene pool because they turned into lunch.

“Did anyone else hear that?”

“Did anyone else hear that?”

Today, most of humanity can reasonably assume that they are not at risk to being lunch for a saber-tooth tiger. The fear of the unseen did not go extinct; it developed into the fear of the unseen in others.

Humans are equally adept at crafting stories and placing blame. As a result we found differences and exploited them to feel safe:

When I go off the rails
I hurt my self not you
I curl up in my bed
A snail within the shell
When I am depressed
I don’t rise up off my sofa
Let alone become a danger
Manned with an axe
To chop up you
When my brain is racing
From one thing to the next
I haven’t the space or time
To bother anyone other
So relax
When I’m up
I am creative
Making, painting a must
I become one possessed
But not with you
Stigma wielding man
My juices too precious to waste
On hydrating your prejudice

I have an illness
It is not contagious
And not the all of me
So if you cannot accept
Or treat me with a little respect
Then at the very least
Zip your mouth
Don’t tell me what’s best
Or simply to pull my self together
I am not curtains
And I do not care to be patronised
By your ignorance
Yes I’m talking to you
The uninformed jury
Assuming fear as fact
Remember one day it may
Be your reality too.
- Rachel Blake

There is a deep-seated, human reason for calling “other” people names. Scapegoating allows us to immediately declare that WE are not THEM. As a result, we feel safe, superior, and entitled to take liberties.

“Dear me… that one thinks he’s Napoleon!”

“Dear me… that one thinks he’s Napoleon!”

Germans became “Krauts”, Japanese became “Japs”, Russians became “Reds”.

Mentally ill turned into “crazy”.

Schizophrenic developed into “dangerous”.

Depression labeled “lazy”.

Anxiety truncated to “weak”.

Suicide became “that which shall not be named”.

We are wired to be afraid of that which we believe is different; stigmatizing something or someone is a natural, human activity.

That said, we should feel comfortable relegating that urge to the dust bin of history. We are far past our species’ once childish understanding of the world. If a child in middle school can comprehend the basics of atomic structure, surely that child can also be taught that .1% is insignificant when compared to 99.9%.

The real question is: will we grow out of our collective childhood on the topic of mental illness or will we follow our baser instincts and maintain the suffering of our fellow humans?