Posted in Blog

“It’s Because of Their Mental Health Issues” – Labelling and Stigma

This might be a controversial post for some, however it’s a question I often ask myself when I look at the people around me, observing their behaviour and the way they interact with the world around them.

So the question is:

How far can somebody go with using their mental health issues as an excuse for being abusive towards others?

In other words, can you excuse somebody hurting you because they have mental health issues?

The reason I ask is because although I know and through volunteering have met some amazing people with various mental health illnesses and disorders (in fact, these are people who I have come to highly respect), on the other hand I’ve also met and witnessed people who treat others appallingly: Making racist remarks, being homophobic, being verbally abusive, physically assaulting people, committing sexual assault and even murder, and society tends to excuse the behaviour as mental instability.

Last month I was physically assaulted and it was racially motivated. The perpetrator is mentally ill and many people were divided because of that, some excusing the behaviour because of his mental health issues, while others felt that although he suffers from a mental illness there is no excuse for racism. My trauma was also minimised by some because as the perpetrator has schizophrenia he was seen by them as the victim.

What do you think?

Where I volunteer, there’s a member of our team who can be extremely abrupt and rude, even to the service users. At first, especially because I’m protective of the people we look after, my first reaction was to think of him as a dick, however I then wondered if he was perhaps on the spectrum: Because he struggles with communication and becomes very unsettled when there are interruptions to the daily schedule perhaps causing him difficulty in expressing his emotions. However, considering that the people we work with are vulnerable too, does that excuse his rude behaviour towards them?

I come to recognise (through the thankful help of therapy) that I tend to get ahead of myself in making assumptions about a person’s behaviour when actually I have not right to.

This can also be applied to us as a society.

We often excuse criminal behaviour for mental instability. Very often if a white man commits mass murder, society is very quick to label him and assume that he is mentally unstable and in need of help rather than judgement. However, as I’ve mentioned in a previous post, many young black men who have suffered horrendous trauma might commit acts of violence, yet society very rarely shows any understanding or sympathy towards them.

Those of us in the UK remember the incident earlier this year, where a white man verbally abused a black woman whose seat had been allocated next to his and because he didn’t want her to sit next to him, he shouted offensive racially abusive things to her (including calling her a “monkey” and referring to her as “that“), just because he didn’t want a black woman sitting next to him. Many white people who read the story excused the man’s behaviour because he was old and “probably had mental health issues”, but clearly the guy was a dick with no respect for women as well as being obviously racist.

I personally feel that there is a thin line between mental illness and hurting people. I’m not perfect and although my mental illnesses may not as severe as the people I come across while volunteering, I have definitely had moments of spontaneous emotion where I’m not thinking clearly about my actions and hurt people in the process. My personality issues make me extremely impulsive where I act before I’ve even had time to process the thoughts behind it. However, I am extremely remorseful afterwards, sometimes immediately, sometimes a little bit later on, sometimes longer. But I do show remorse which is very much genuine and very much off my own back.

This is important to note.

Last week while volunteering I had a conversation with one of the service users, who while in a fit of rage made some homophobic comments. He had been accused of hitting someone and in the process of saying he wouldn’t hurt anyone, he then said “it’s not like I’m going around beating up f****s“. I told him he couldn’t say what he was saying because it was offensive. He walked away but then a few minutes later came back with his head hung low and apologised; he explained that he was upset and struggling to express his feelings and sometimes when that happens he says things he doesn’t mean, however he had not meant to say what he had and was deeply ashamed. He also has schizophrenia and can struggle to sort through his own thoughts and beliefs. Being a queer woman, I had every right to be upset with him but to me, that was a blip for him; in my opinion he showed genuine remorse and he’s proven himself to be a kind soul. That conversation was actually our first real encounter and it could’ve had a negative impact on how I saw him, but he very quickly proved himself to be a kind-hearted and genuine person.

Unfortunately this isn’t always the case.

I think we really have to be mindful of how we’re using the term mental ill-health, because excusing bad behaviour as a symptom of mental illness only intensifies the stigma surrounding it, penalising the many people who are struggling to be seen as real people as opposed to monsters.

And these are my final thoughts for 2018! I’m going on the short mini-break to Vienna and I’ll be back on 2nd January, so when I’m back I’ll post about my trip as well as my highlights for 2018. Happy New Year to all of my readers and subscribers 💋 your support has been a lifeline for me! See you in 2019!

Author:

I’m Cece Alexandra and I have Epilepsy. Since being diagnosed, my life has changed significantly. After studying and teaching Humanities and Literature for all of my adult life, I was bullied and lost my job a month before qualifying to become an English Teacher. Once you fail the Teacher Training course in England, you cannot ever retrain; I then became too sick to work because of my Epilepsy. I am now currently studying an MSc in Mental Health Psychology with the University of Liverpool. My disability provokes me into raising awareness for invisible disabilities, which I also actively partake in with Epilepsy Action. Part of that awareness is to help fight against invisible disability discrimination - I believe that this behaviour is not cognitively unconscious; modern society is actively partaking in a hierarchy of disabilities and I believe that there is not enough psychological research to prove this. I am also clinically interested in Cultural Psychology - particularly Collectivist Culture, and wish to pursue this further in my academic career.

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