On Monday, I wrote about the Faces of Mental Illness campaign run by the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health. This campaign is part of the Mental Illness Awareness Week which is this week in Canada (next week in the U.S.).
I like this campaign, and what’s more, given by the number of people who have read and shared the article, you like it too. People like hearing from other real people who have faced real mental illnesses and come out the other side to create whole and satisfying lives for themselves. And there’s absolutely nothing wrong with that. People find it helpful and hopeful and inspiring.
But the campaign leaves out a huge segment of the mentally ill population. Where is the celebration of those who fight every day to beat their mental illness but don’t become published authors or start a non-profit?
See, Not Everyone Writes a Book
See, the trouble with the Faces of Mental Illness campaign is that they choose extraordinary people. And certainly, people with a mental illness can be extraordinary. They can be brilliant, articulate, strong, courageous and achieve amazing things. But then again, they can just be average folks. You know, like most people.
And moreover, success with a mental illness is not the same as success without one. Yes, writing a book is great but it’s much better “just” to be happy. “Just” to calm the voices in your head. “Just” to be able to contribute to your family. “Just” to be able to live independently.
Real Faces of Mental Illness
Because the real faces of mental illness aren’t nearly as glamorous as the shining examples make them look. The real faces of mental illness are full of flawed, struggling people who work extremely hard every day to try to beat back their illness. And many days they lose. And that’s OK. I think not recognizing these people disfranchises them, which is unfortunate, because there are so many people out there facing these challenges.
The real faces of mental illness include people struggling to shower, people who relapse, people who are terrified, people who can’t accept their illness, people who attempt suicide and people who cry at the drop of an eyelash.
These are the real faces and they deserve to be destigmatized too.
Because while it’s nice to have grand success stories enter the public consciousness, it’s also really important to point out that those in the throes of the illness, or those who achieve seemingly smaller goals, are to be celebrated and are completely “normal” too. It’s not good enough just to insist that people treat the shining examples like everyone else; we must insist that all versions of mental illness need to be treated with respect and compassion.
So I challenge the people at the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health to feature a broader spectrum of people with a mental illness. Because life is messy. It isn’t just glossy pictures, big smiles in the sunshine and speaking engagements. It’s also celebrating the win that is being a good father, daughter, friend and partner. It’s about celebrating getting your first apartment or first job. It’s about celebrating acceptance of your illness. It’s only once we recognize that people in these situations are every bit as worthy and as special and as inspirational as the shining examples that we truly desitgmatize mental illness.