By Jim McNaughton
Sometimes I feel the prison walls too. I was in my young twenties, and went swimming at a public pool. The lifeguard was cute. But I knew I had no chance with her. You see, I was part of a group for which the pool had been exclusively reserved. We were a group of mental patients.
When you’re a mental patient you can get locked up. But after you get out you can get locked out; locked out of people’s hearts. Sometimes once you reveal your mental illness, everything you do and say is interpreted by others through their lens of mental illness (they don’t see you anymore, they see every movie and newscast distortion of mental illness). For example, you can’t get too upset about injustice, or they get worried about their safety around you. You can’t get too excited and animated, or they say you are agitated and worry about their safety around you. But the worst response is more frequent: they simply dismiss your credibility; you become a non-person; and they don’t stay around you.
Unlike skin color, I can choose whether to reveal my difference and risk “the prison walls”. I hid this part of my life from most people for about 25 years. Since being bought out of my 23-year career as an Advertising Designer, and finishing my Bachelor’s degree in 2010, I’ve been on a personal anti-stigma campaign.
One in five people will experience some mental illness in their lifetime. That’s about 600 people in our church or about a dozen people in this Leadership Essentials class. And many will suffer without help because they fear the stigma of being labeled.
Racism and mental illness stigma are both based in ignorance and fear of the unknown. Have the courage to face your fear and risk a relationship with someone who is different than you… You may find that they are not all that different… from you.