When I was shooting bits for a documentary that Young Ones was a part of back in 2012, I was asked a question that caught me off guard, despite its simplicity and potential obviousness. The question: “What would you say to those who discriminate against you?”
I was taken back. “Wow,” I said, “I’ve never thought about it.” How many of us who are experiencing mental health and addiction issues, ever thought about what we would say to those who deny us housing, education, employment, resources, understanding and love? Better yet, have any of us actually voiced our thoughts to the people?
Maybe some of you have thought or spoken out against those who discriminate against you. If you have I applaud you, support you and hope you continue thinking and speaking up. If you haven’t, then maybe you are like I was then and didn’t think or say anything because you’ve accepted that your lot in life is to be damned by others. But, there lies the problem. Mental health and addictions discrimination is accepted. It is in our core beliefs as individuals and as a society that those who experience mental health and addictions issues are not worthy. Those of us who are suffering from the discrimination stay silent because that is what we are supposed to do; we’ve learned to discriminate from our family, our friends, our employers, our teachers, our doctors and our community. The discriminators have been taught as well. They have been taught the hate and it has been passed down through generations.
Over the past two years I have not only begun to think about what I would say to those who discriminate against me, I have spoken out.
“You shouldn’t be working with children because you have a mental illness.”— You are wrong. I am a very loving addition to the lives of the children I work with and I am very good at my job.
“No one will ever love you because you’re sick.” — You are wrong. I have been with my partner for five years and we have plans to be married and have children.
“You have Borderline Personality Disorder and you deserve to be discriminated against.”— You are wrong. I am a person worthy of love and respect just like you.
“You’re a sadist for self-harming.”— You are wrong. I am a person in pain and self-harm (cutting) is how I cope.
I’m doing my part to fight discrimination, now you, those who discriminate (knowingly or not), need to do yours. Seek out truthful information. Get to know people who have mental health and addiction issues. Challenge your beliefs, ask yourself how you contribute to discrimination and what can you do to help. Be critical of media portrayals (fictional and actual) of people with mental health and addiction issues. Be critical of our governments which poorly funds mental health treatment and support initiatives. Be critical of our own personal experiences with individuals with mental health and addiction issues (I have been treated poorly by “normal” people and I know not all of you are bad).
So, what was my answer to the question posed by the documentary producer? “You don’t know me. Get to know me first and if I’m a jerk then you can hate me. I’m a good person though.”
Submitted by: Kristen Bellows