By Joseph Merlin Bowers
May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I cringe every time I hear the term mental health when someone is referring to mental “illness.”
First of all, I don’t care if anyone is aware of mental health. I want everyone to be aware of mental illness. What does the term mental health mean anyway? We all have mental health of varying types and degrees. The estimated four percent of the population with serious mental illnesses such as schizophrenia or bipolar disorder are among the most shunned, discriminated against neglected demographics of our society.
Roughly half don’t even know they have a disease. Mental illnesses are the only diseases I know of that often make you think you are not sick. Psychotic people, sick people who lack awareness, people with treatment resistant bipolar disorder and people with serious depression are among those who need a mental illness awareness month.
I also object to the idea of less menacing or shameful terms like health instead of illness, consumer instead of someone who is mentally ill and NAMI’s insistence that no one use the term “crazy.” I’ve been crazy many times in my life. If I object to the use of this term by others to describe these times, I am acknowledging that there is something shameful about being crazy. I wasn’t ashamed when I got prostate cancer. Why should I be ashamed when I got psychotic?
I’ve done things when psychotic that I deeply regret but nothing that I’m ashamed of. I know these things were done because of an illness not because of any lack of character or morality or criminality.
My other objection to mental “health” awareness week is what I see as an attempt to highlight the high functioning in recovery at the expense of those who are really ill, really in trouble and really need help. People with untreated or treatment resistant mental illnesses are more dangerous to themselves or others and more helpless than most. They don’t need to be shunned or ignored. They need to be helped before tragedy occurs.
Serious mental illnesses kill just as surely as if they were cancer, heart disease, diabetes, ALS, HIV or any other type of disease. There are massive, popular campaigns to fight these diseases. We don’t even call mental illness what it is. Where is our ice bucket challenge to fight serious mental illness? It affects a lot more people than ALS does.
Like most demographics that are discriminated against, crazy people are discriminated against because of fear and ignorance. Let’s have a mental “illness” awareness month to spread awareness and illumination and dispel fear and ignorance.