Us versus them – that’s the short answer. Stigma only exists because we want to be on the side of the majority, the side of what is “right” – or what we perceive as right anyway – the side which is accepted by the same majority they want to be part of.
Outside of mental illness, the stigma exists in many different situations. Take LGBTQ+ for example – people are for or against the existence of LGBTQ+ people (forget their rights, recognisation is more important). LGBTQ+ is denied by a group of people because other people deny that it exists. It is the truth and the absolute truth that some people are lesbians, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer or any other gender they identify with. But people still deny the existence of such an issue, because other people do.
To be with other people, sadly, gives power to numbers. The LGBTQ+ community can be oppressed, but if the tables were turned and being straight was a ‘sin’, the cards are exactly the same, but it doesn’t seem too right, does it?
Let’s take global warming. We know the planet is getting warmer and warmer every single year. We know that decades ago, we started burning coal and the amount of greenhouse gases have started to increase, which led to global warming. But somehow, the “science isn’t all in yet”. When will the science be fully in? When we run out of coal? When we start losing cities around the world to flooding? But because there are a group of conscious climate change deniers, it justifies one’s decision to be a denier.
If we all started believing in drinking seawater and there was a group of sea water deniers, it doesn’t sound too stupid now, does it? (Maybe if we could drink sea water we could solve rising sea levels.)
Back to mental health
There are people who deny that mental health issues exist. There are people who believe it is one single cause that leads to mental health issues. There are people who believe mental health issues are all psychological. These people believe this because there is a fairly significant group of people who believe the same thing. Before science improved and we found out mental health issues are due to an imbalance in chemicals in the brain, we believed in lobotomies (do not Google) and used ice picks to solve mental health issues. Back then, those who were mentally ill were crazy.
Now, many people still think those who are depressed are just sad, those who are anxious just need to ‘get out more’ and those who are bipolar are simply having mood-swings. It is less than ice pick lobotomies (I repeat, do not Google) but the fact that we can deny a scientific truth simply awes me (in all the wrong ways). It is like climate change – scientific truths – but can be denied, because there are people who deny it.
Through my various experiences talking to many people about my mental health, I see people who believe the things that I wrote above: complete deniers, single-causers or ‘it’s all in your thinking-ers’. It get’s hard trying to explain what mental health is to people who deny it even partially, but as a community and society, we can make that group of deniers smaller and smaller.
Smaller and smaller
As we make the group of deniers smaller and smaller, their claim start to become less ‘legitimate’ (they weren’t in the first place). That is when we start to make big leaps in treating people with mental health issues like those with physical issues, be it the common cold, depression, a fever or an autoimmune disease.
But today, we still take a stand. We have to pick a side. We don’t have to. But everyone makes you take one. It’s us versus them. It’s the deniers versus those who experience them. It’s the scientists versus the spiritualists. I respect the decision to deny but if a group start to lose its stand on something that can be proven over and over to be untrue – maybe we need to open our minds for a bit, and see we aren’t really ‘us versus them’.
Turn the tables and you’ll play a different game with the same set of cards.