another social taboo

The first taboo being openly discussing biraciality without adhering to the one-drop rule.  Of course I find this blog post to be interesting, or I wouldn’t put it up here.  I appreciate the bit about biracial identity as well as the outline of the overall struggle and the shame that go along with the labels of mental illness in this country.  Especially in the black community.

Coming out of an entirely different closet… the one of mental illness

by Eliza Barnett


Unfortunately as prevalent as mental health disorders are the nation (50+ million diagnosed in the US alone) and world wide, it still tops the ranks as the most difficult to admit.

Higher than revealing to be a victim of domestic abuse, sexual assault, or molestation, harder than confessing a drinking problem or previous bankruptcy; surveys have even shown it to more difficult than admitting ones gender identity or homosexuality. Sufferers face significant social taboos. And it doesn’t affect just one type of person. Mental illness knows nothing of age, race, gender, or economic background.

You don’t have to personally admit it yourself to believe the notion the reality that people are more likely to break off, or not even start, a relationship with someone with mental issues -which I for one find particularly interesting because members of society are more likely to stay with someone with a physical disability. People with mental disorders tend to prefer to hide their illness like major depression and anxiety, because unlike people with physical illnesses, people with mental disorders must also fear being rejected by family & friends, harassed, fired or not hired, or denied child custody—just for starters.

(Please check out this personal blog discussing the Price of being Bipolar in Public)

Last week I had an entire conversation with a friend about them being practically afraid to admit their Christian faith at their workplace because of the negative assumptions his non-same faith based peers might think about his character or behavior.

Once you know someone’s religious preference it changes your whole personality to people who don’t agree with you. Sometimes it’s like every negative image or thought they have about it becomes who I am as a person- even though I haven’t changed. It’s their behavior towards me that has.

I’ve read more than a few articles of a biracial person attempting, or enjoying the ability to pass for one race over another—not because they have a problem with it necessarily themselves, but because other people do.

Sometimes it’s like every negative stereotype or prejudice they have against a race I share membership of encompasses who I am as a person. Granted racism is an ongoing issue for those of one race, but it is just as prevalent towards those of plural heritage.

Sexual orientation discrimination —don’t even get me started.

(great message board discussion here coming coming out as gay with coming out as bipolar)

Mental illness sufferers are also victims of discrimination and the issue continually needs to be recognized.

“I’m Asian, I’m gay, and I have faced discrimination – but not for the reasons most people think; it was actually when I got depression that I faced most discrimination.”

(Quote from an article in the Guardian)

Attempts to end this discrimination are being lead by strong individuals, in the public eye, and by everyday people. Changed perception comes through increased knowledge and visibility.

People need to be taught that mental disorders don’t come from places of personal weakness, and don’t make everyone violent or unpredictable. They need to be made comfortable in seeking help. (Two thirds of sufferers in need of treatment do not seek it. ) Even more importantly open, honest visibility helps others with the illnesses themselves to stand up without shame.

Negative stigma’s of this variety aren’t just external, they’re internal. Who wants to think of themselves as crazy…? When feelings of guilt, shame, or a notion that you’re somehow weakened for needing help are thrown in the mix, it only reinforces the negative feelings.

Isn’t it always the case that telling the ones you love is the hardest thing to do? This isn’t any different. And ignorance towards the idea of mental disorders can to be hard to deal with; some people may not even believe mental illnesses exist. Americans particularly have vast misconception that all mental disorders can be simply be self-corrected with enough work.

Similar to the first step in admitting you have an addiction; your own acceptance is where it all begins. Examine your own feeling first and foremost. You have control over who you tell, so it’s okay to be cautious about it.

“There is no rule for who needs to know about your mental illness diagnosis, but sharing it with someone is a great way to get support.

The silence helps maintain the ignorance about mental illness.”


That being said,

“It doesn’t mean that it is always beneficial to open up indiscriminately about mental health, to your detriment. It would be wonderful if everybody came out.

But it is a very subjective decision and consequences should be considered. Society isn’t at the place of acceptance that it needs to be. Not everyone in the world needs to know if you struggle with diabetes or hypertension or some other illness. The same is true for mental illness. Those with the disorder, are the ones in charge, and should think about what the payoff is to share information about their mental health. For example, if you need to miss work to see a psychiatrist, you might want to tell your employer about what you are going through.”

When someone does react negatively, agree to disagree or try to educate that person. Share educational materials. Share your own experience. And to those on the receiving end of the information, think before you speak.

“Try to react the same way you would if you were told about a physical health problem that you don’t know much about. Avoid trying to be the hero or savior. Being empathic and understanding is one thing, but trying rescue someone is a completely different. You shouldn’t try to fix them. This is something that is way beyond your capacity.”

Treatment and support from others goes a long way; the mental illness journey is a rough one for everyone involved. Help is required, it’s critical down the path of recovery, management of ones condition, and ability to lead constructive and healthy lives. Support can and does come from strangers as well, who share in this unity of diagnosis. As corny as it sounds, sharing is caring.

–Posted By Eliza Barnett

1 thought on “another social taboo

  1. You know, Tiff, I’ve followed your blog for a few years and I must say…you truly are somebody I admire.

    As with many other things in life, people can be VERY ignorant about depression and mental health in general.
    My feeling has always been that there should be more counselors who are specifically trained to work with people of color, esp. people of mixed race.

    Reflecting on my own struggles with depression, I’ve learned that it isn’t safe to share with others.
    I’ve been gossiped about, lied on, called “psycho” and “crazy”…it HURTS. We need to end the stigmas that keep us all prisoners.

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