Wednesday, May 2, 2012

Stigma Among the Mentally Ill in Forums © Megan Snider

“Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all.”
---Bill Clinton

Dedicated to Alexander Dilon and Yuliya Ladigina

 The interesting and profoundly sad thing I have encountered over the years is that stigma and ignorance applied to mental illness is not simply segregated to the general population. Oh, no! It comes in a variety of forms-- including from the mentally ill themselves. Why, in fact, if I were able to quote remarks left on the forums along with their authors without being held liable for libel, I would have a good case study for you on the complex relationship that mentally ill individuals have between one another! I would also do this for the sake of justice on behalf of all of the mentally ill being bullied and persecuted on online forums! Now, it's funny that none of that nonsense is looked at as "libel", isn't it? It makes things a little too convenient for people to get away with their nasty little attacks often written in the style of a first-grader's fractured English.

You see, it's not satisfactory enough to struggle with any sort of mental illness if you are vocal, bright, and passionate. If you happen to be mentally ill and decide to share your opinion, suddenly you are a "Paranoid Schizophrenic". This seems to be the worse diagnosis people can seem to hurl at one another. If that doesn't work, then you are "paranoid", "psycho", "psychotic" or possibly "deranged." Perhaps you are referred to as a "case study" on mental illnesses in general.  

Since the mentally ill live with the stigma and the bias of being labeled as "mentally ill", you would think they would be the last to make such grossly generic and frighteningly polarizing remarks. However, knowing the pain and the humiliation that accompanies a diagnosis, some mentally ill will lash out with unfounded and cutting remarks to their fellow sufferers. It's bad enough to be judged by society as a whole, but when you can find no relief from others who "claim" to know that torture of mental illness, the weight and the cruelty of the situation takes a nosedive. You mean the mentally ill are calling their own even more outrageously mentally ill to save face? You bet! I've witnessed it countless times.

There is already such stigma on the mentally ill. Why would we want to further the pain and suffering? Well, one answer to this question is popular culture. I was watching an episode of the comedy show "Impractical Jokers" a few weeks ago where one of the jokers cut in line. The man whom he had cut in line ahead of turned to him and said, "What is wrong with you? Are you SICK?" Now, I'm sure we all know what the word "sick" denotes here in this context-- why, a mental illness of course! I was unaware that "cutting in line" was a diagnostic criteria for a mental illness. I will have to consult my copy of the DSM.

The second advent to bring about these harsh judgements is the acceptance and prevalence of trolls on forums for the mentally ill. Now, I am someone who generally laughs at trolling. Yet this scenario is revolting. It seems that the forums really do not monitor whom they allow into their group. Once group protocol and "nettiquite" have been breached, the moderators, if any, are slow and rare to act. The people on the forum seem fine with this, I suppose, because it gives them something-- or rather SOMEONE-- to laugh at. The trolls pick off a member whom they perceive as "weak" because of desperate posts or "crazy" because of innovative and bright comments. Once a target is picked, everyone follows suit. You see? High school can be reduplicated again and this time you can be on the winning team!

The third reason this persists is that the mentally ill are preoccupied with their diagnoses and do not want to plunge any deeper into the world of psychiatric care. This is a sentiment I understand far too well. However, instead of voicing concerns, some mentally ill will attack others who make posts they perceive as either again "weak" or " highly verbal". Then it gets to the point of children taunting one another on a playground. "Well, you may be sick!" one child may sneer, "But, at least I am not as SICK as YOU!" There always must be a comparison point among the mentally ill. Even if you share the same mental illness, the severity and depth of your mental illness will be scrutinized against that of another.

Now, in all fairness, the internet is not a nice place. Just like the "real world", it can and it will kick you when you're down. It will shatter some ribs and kick in some teeth. You had better believe it. However, the conduct I have seen in some mental illness forums is reprehensible. It is NOT because these people are mentally ill. No, that is NOT what I am suggesting at all. Mental illness is not the great tragedy and force that drive people to desperate acts such as suicide, although it can play the part of the huge catalyst. The acts that take place on these forums including, bullying, belittling, ignorance, judgement, fear, isolation, provocation, mudslinging, name calling, abuse, misuse of power, trolling, and personal attacks can easily push a mentally ill person who is desperate for compassion and understanding over the edge and into the eternal dark abyss of death.

What can we do? What do we need to do? Well, as a society, our only chance for redemption and hope for a better future comes from learning to change. Let's be honest, the examination of past cruelties inflicted on the mentally ill by medicine, society, and by the mentally ill themselves is not in our favor. I advocate for a movement towards uplifting spirits, compassion, gentleness, patience, acceptance, and intimacy. If this ever happens, I do not believe it will be in my lifetime. Things seem to be getting more and more personal and derogatory each and every day. With the march towards progress, anyone can easily access your most private feelings and vulnerabilities and have you blacklisted from several forums. Trusting the wrong people-- those who masquerade as friends-- is also a painful lesson for the disenfranchised mentally ill person to cope with.

I wish I could give you an answer, but I can't. As long as the human heart exists, there will be the capacity for both love and malice, peace and chaos, and kindness and bitterness. It really boils down to that. You must choose how you will conduct yourself. You must choose both the words you speak and the words you type. You must choose if you wish to build someone up or tear them down. In the end, it is up to the individual. Those of you who are suffering from abuse at the hands of a corrupt forum claiming to help the mentally ill may e-mail me. I know of a very kind forum for sufferers. Those of you who are playing the blame game, judging something you don't understand, bewildering the already frightened, and further victimizing the vulnerable must understand that your actions will only reflect back upon you. Remember the old maxim, my friends, "What goes around, comes around." So don't worry, my friend, you will also endure your time in exile. 

© Megan Snider

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