Reading a post by Gabe Howard today, that was what I took away. I think he’s actually on to something:
Stop yelling at people. Stop trying to make people feel badly for not understanding our circumstances. Stop being disrespectful, condescending, and angry toward people who don’t know what it’s like to live with mental illness. It isn’t helping our cause and is, in fact, hurting it.
The general population believes that people with mental illness are unstable, erratic, and potentially violent. So when they encounter a person with mental illness who treats them poorly, it reinforces that belief. They don’t see the people we are; they see the angry people we present. And, frankly, no one looks their best when angry.
This is true of so many advocates, and not just for mental health. I find it true of many groups who want to advocate for an issue. If someone dares to use the improper terminology, or use a phrase that is considered to be disrespectful of the advocates, they aren’t invited to continue to have a discussion about the issue. They are shamed, shunned, and ostracized, which only serves to remind them that advocates are, in fact, not interested in having open conversations, but only in their own, closed, communities where everyone knows the passwords.
This doesn’t help. Think of it this way, if there were an assumption in popular culture that all lawyers are rude and argumentative, and every time someone made a remark about it, lawyers responded by being rude and arguing, well then, the assumption would seem to be pretty correct, wouldn’t it? What changes the assumption? Actually knowing, interacting and living among lawyers.
The best way to advocate for mental health is to be around people who otherwise would say that they don’t know anyone who deals with mental health issues. It’s the same for child abuse advocates. The best way to convince someone of the massive amount of childhood abuse that has been occurring over the years, is for them to know actual people who they can identify as survivors of child abuse! (This is also a great way for survivors to recognize that they can heal, by hearing the voices and seeing the lives of people who have overcome childhood abuse!)
The only way we are going to get the open discussions about mental health and child abuse that we want society to have, is to let people in, not by excluding them. How do you grow a movement by only including the people who know everything about it already?
That path only keeps the issue underground, keeping it there is not going to get us where we want to go.