An open letter to society about mental illness

According to the National Alliance on Mental Health, one in four adults experiences mental illness in a year. That’s about sixty-one million people. One in seven, or about thirteen million people, live with a serious mental illness, like schizophrenia, major depression, or bipolar disorder. And every single time some white guy decides to slaughter innocent people, society immediately jumps on the blame mental illness bandwagon.

I have borderline personality disorder, major depression, and mild PTSD. I am isolated in that I have no support system outside my immediate family. The irony is, when I was really sick, deeply immersed in BPD, I was very popular. Now that I am well-ish, I have no friends. Oh, I have people online who are whatever online friends are, but I don’t have anyone I can call and just say “I really need to get things off my chest, can you listen for awhile?” There are millions of folks who are isolated and struggling with mental illness in America, and whenever we hear society call us all violent, or dangerous, it isolates us even more.

Being mentally ill statistically means you will be a victim of violence, not a perpetrator. Does this stop society at large from labeling us all as dangerous? After Sandy Hook, a woman I knew online-a liberal-wrote she thought all mentally ill people (she used the word crazy) should be locked up, in order to keep society safe. Wayne LaPierre, official sociopath for the NRA, suggested a registry for all mentally ill people in America. Because it’s easier to say we’re all going to snap, and shoot up a school, or a mall, or an African-American church, than dealing with our societal problems.

Let me describe an average day in the mind and life of a major depressive. Right now, my family is going through a ton of horrible shit. I don’t sleep, I have no energy, I’m not eating, I’m smoking like a chimney, I have moments of physical pain-headaches, stomachaches, nausea. I have nightmares that wake me up before dawn, shaking and sweating. The only person in any physical danger from me is me.

But I am not going to resort to self-harm to get through this, because I have coping skills. Six years of intensive therapy, dialectic behavior modification, and the right medication, have led me out of the darkness, and given me the tools I must use during times like this to stay alive. And I use those tools. However, when I see society stigmatize people like me, it makes it harder to remember those tools.





There is no shame in being mentally ill. There is no shame in getting help, or taking meds, or having days, weeks, or even months, where it takes all your energy just to get dressed. The shame lies squarely on the shoulders of everyone who believes we should be locked up, or in jail, simply for being sick. Do we do that with cancer patients, or diabetics?

I’ve often said mental illness isn’t a casserole disease. If a neighbor is diagnosed with cancer, or has surgery, people bring over food, often casseroles. If a neighbor is diagnosed with bipolar disorder, or PTSD, or major depression, or schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder, or any mental illness, no one shows up with a covered dish, offering to walk the dog. Mental illness is the one disease society refuses to understand.

The LGBT community is blamed for everything from natural disasters to 9/11 to the economy. The mentally ill community is blamed for white men shooting people. Perhaps we need to join forces, LGBT and mentally ill, and shout from the rooftops that we are tired of being the scapegoats for society. Rather than deal with racism, violence, hate, climate change, or anything real, society takes the easy way out: blame groups of people who can’t help who they are. Does society really believe LGBT individuals choose a life where they are discriminated against, targeted by hate groups, bullied, beaten, and often murdered? Does society really believe that mentally ill individuals enjoy being mentally ill? The thoughts of self-harm, the medication that often robs you of your personality, the exhaustion, the insomnia, the spinning, whirling thoughts?

Bring Change 2 Mind is a fantastic organization, dedicated to ending the stigma surrounding mental illness. They do great work, and you can find them here. If you are struggling with mental illness, and the recent barrage of blaming and shaming has triggered negative thoughts or emotions, please visit this link to find help.


Originally published on Poking At Snakes.

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About Erin Nanasi 90 Articles
Erin Nanasi is a writer, mom, wife, liberal, and lover of wombats. She is the creator of The Bachmann Diaries, Satirical Excerpts from Michele Bachmann's Diaries. Her interview with Bobby Seale, the co-founder of the original Black Panthers, is part of an archive collection at U. C. Berkeley. Erin hates writing about herself in the third person.
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