Individuals with mental illness are acutely aware of the stigma which surrounds such conditions. While it is often hurtful and discouraging, it can also be a stigma perpetuated by other people’s disrespectful reactions and statements regarding mental illness.
Recently, To Write Love on Her Arms founder Jamie Tworkowski posted a harmful comment he saw on the dating app Bumble. In the screenshot he shared, he came across someone’s desired qualities in a partner — one of which was “no mental illnesses or addictions, plz.” In response he tweeted, “’No mental illnesses’ = No thanks. MENTAL ILLNESS IS NOT A CHARACTER FLAW,” and I couldn’t agree more.
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Such a statement is not only generalizing conditions which exist on a broad spectrum, it also furthers the stigma surrounding mental illness, and gives no consideration to the many positive qualities people with mental illness possess as a result of the struggles they have endured.
All mental illnesses are most certainly not the same. There are a tremendously large number of conditions which fall into the category of “mental illness,” and are often so commonplace that it is not infrequent for someone to have a close friend or family member struggling with those issues but that no one is aware of. To generalize mental illnesses with one simple statement only exacerbates the stigma that all “mental illnesses” are a negative, embarrassing and socially unacceptable conditions to have. Though some elements of the stigma surrounding mental illness have improved in recent years, and people have started to be more forthcoming about their struggles – such broad discriminatory statements like the one made on the dating site certainly discourage such openness, and it continues to perpetuate the stigmas resulting from a lack of understanding or empathy regarding mental illness.
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While mental illnesses present many difficulties for those who struggle with them, they also present the chance for individuals with those conditions to display some of the positive qualities they have acquired as a result of their struggles. Individuals with mental illness are frequently more empathetic and compassionate than others, often as a result of experiencing quite the opposite reactions from friends and family regarding their own condition. Those individuals develop a genuine desire to shield others from such feelings of isolation and negativity that they have experienced, by being understanding and patient with others, as well as forming an emotional connection that allows people to feel truly cared about and heard.
The critical response and negative attitudes that can be displayed towards people with mental illnesses forces them to be particularly strong and resilient in order to cope with the reactions they may face from others. Such qualities are extremely desirable in the work place, and mean that individuals with mental illnesses can often be a valuable employee in a variety of settings, because they will show a high level of dedication to their work. Developing such helpful qualities becomes an extreme asset not only in the work place, but also in life.
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These individuals’ ability to continue pressing forward despite obstacles allows them to endure hardships and find a way through whatever situation they may face. They might see an argument with a significant other as a challenge to be worked through, rather than viewing it as simply a negative quality in their partner. They are accustomed to facing hardships in life, and will put considerable effort in to overcoming the challenges that could arise in their relationships, which makes them desirable partners for anyone seeking a relationship with someone who does not give up when things get difficult. There are numerous positive qualities that individuals with mental illnesses have acquired through their struggles, however those qualities are frequently overlooked and under-appreciated due to the considerable stigma surrounding mental illness.
The attitude of judgment displayed by the person on this dating site is not only tragic; it is hurtful to all people who bravely endure the difficulty of having a mental illness. Such statements further the negative misconceptions surrounding mental illness, and make attempts to eliminate the stigma even harder. Whether this person’s statement comes from a place of ignorance or simply stigma, it is the kind of thinking that desperately needs to be eradicated from society in order to give those with mental illness the kind of respectful treatment they deserve. After all, mental illness does not make a person less human; and all humans deserve to be treated with kindness, not disdain.
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