16 Things People With Mental Illness Want to Tell the Next President

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When the next U.S. president gets inaugurated next January, he or she will have an agenda and a vision for what our country needs. While there are plenty of issues to go around, mental health is rarely considered a “hot button” issue. In fact, it seems to only be brought up in the political sphere after a tragic shooting — leaving most of the 43.8 million Americans who live with a mental illness out of the conversation.

To get that conversation going, we asked people in our Mighty community living with mental illnesses to tell us one message they have for the next U.S. president.

Here’s what they want the future president to know:

1. “You have a powerful voice. Use your voice for good, not to perpetuate stigma and hate. Mental illness is not just a talking point or shorthand to insult people. Your opponent is not mentally ill for disagreeing with you. A flip-flopper is not bipolar. Mental illness affects 1 in 5 Americans. Your public. The people who you have taken an oath to preserve, protect and defend. Preserve us. Protect us. Defend us. All of us. Fund research. Fund programs. Get Americans the help we need, whether we have insurance or money or not. This is a matter of life and death. Save American lives. Make mental illness a priority.” — Danielle Hark

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2. “Healthcare is a human right. Mental health issues are health issues and coverage for mental heath treatment needs to be included when we talk about healthcare.” — Kim Shilakes

3. “Stop using people with mental illness as a scapegoat when it comes to gun violence. We are much more likely to be the victims of violence.” — Sonia Faith

4. “The mental health system is extremely broken and needs a lot of care right now. Cheaper providers, medications, better hospitals, more research and more education for the entire nation. There is so much stigma attached to mental illness because people don’t understand it. And this won’t change unless people in the government step up.” — Kimberly Labine

5. “Mental health needs to be viewed as equally important as physical health.” — Sherrie Tyler

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6. “It’s time to stop shoving mental illness into a dark closet — it’s time to actively end the stigma and give sufferers opportunities to get the best help they can. It’s not a joking matter, never has been.” — Ashley David Stevens

7. “If you care about citizens living with mental illness and want to help the state of mental health in America, please stop using stigmatizing language. Calling someone “crazy” or explicitly stating they have a mental illness contributes to the problems we all want to solve. People don’t seek help as much when mental illness is equated with being a bad person. Our conditions are serious health issues, not the butt of jokes.” — Nicole Campbell

8. “Please make mental healthcare and medication affordable! I had to forego my psych appointment and thereby my psych meds this month because I just don’t have enough money. I don’t qualify for benefits, but I don’t make enough money to buy insurance, so everything is self-pay. Due to this disaster, I may end up hospitalized.” — Terrie Karp

9. “Don’t wait until the next tragedy to talk about mental health and mental illness.” — Allison DeLuca

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10. “The majority of those with mental illness do not want to be a burden on society; we want to be productive members of society. But if we can’t work due to our issues, we rely on the system to get us stable again. Please understand that if there is a chemical imbalance in the brain, it affects the whole body. But when we get the help to heal our brains, the body usually follows suit.” — Dena Rigby

11. “Mental illness should not have to be whispered about or talked about behind closed doors. It is an illness like any physical illness, and we deserve to be treated as such. Please help us in our daily fight instead of making things harder by ignoring us!” — Caitlin Hoechst

12. “When you talk about diversity and bringing people together, don’t forget about people with disabilties or mental illnesses. It makes me feel unimportant.” — Kristie Carlsen

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13. “Mental health needs more funds for training for the police, parents, teachers and public agencies to help prevent tragedies.” — Montgomery Diaz

14. “People shouldn’t have to end up in prison to get treatment! Get this system right once and for all!” — Stephanie Aveytia

15. “I matter.” — Jenna Swearingen Hatfield

16. “Stand up and show people that mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of.” — Celina Pulenskey

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

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To My Friend Having a Bad Mental Health Day

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Hi there,

I see that you’re having one of those days. Hard to get out of bed. Difficult to concentrate. Painful to smile. 

I’ve been there.

Mary getting ready for her 1-year multiple sclerosis check-up and MRI
Mary getting ready for her 1-year multiple sclerosis check-up and MRI

Moving through the fog of self-doubt and maybe self-chastisement, the day slows, and all those nagging thoughts are given room to bloom — Why am I not happy? Why can’t I move? Why do I feel stuck? Am I the only one?

Maybe you’ve had downer days before, or maybe this is a new reality.  It hurts either way. 

The hardest thing to see is the way out. The second hardest thing to understand is that this is not permanent. 

Each of us may be served tricky mental health days differently — the sensations and severity may vary widely — but don’t let yourself believe you don’t deserve to feel better. There are ways. The mind is a beautiful puzzle of neurotransmitters, synapses, hormones and messages of all sorts being sent around, all trying to work in harmony. There are tools available to help our beautiful minds thrive, and to reach that seemly elusive state of happiness or stability.

Sometimes searching so hard to get out of the darkness, we forget about the ways little rays of light could come to meet us, such as through music or meditation. Meditation helped lead me to shed fears. Sometimes even a new sleep schedule can help; sleep affects hormones, and hormones affect how we feel. And if insomnia is as much of a problem for you as it was for me, let me say again — meditation. But you can find other little things that work for you.

When we’re stuck in the quicksand of a down day, everything is hard. I know. Gentle lifestyle changes may not be “cures,” but let’s not worry about “cures” right now. Let’s just look for ways to get your light shining again. Even for one hour of one day. Because you deserve it. 

And please, please believe me when I say — there will be light. It’s there. And I’ll stay with you until we get there.   

I know, fellow warrior, that it’s just all so much. But you are definitely not alone. Let’s lean on each other, sharing in the joys and in the pain. We are in this together — stumbling through the dark, finding a way to shine.

Love,
Mary

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Mary meditating

What helps you feel better on your “down days”? Share it with the community, and maybe you’ll help bring a little light to someone else’s day!

The Mighty is asking the following: Write a letter to anyone you wish had a better understanding of your experience with disability, disease or mental illness. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.

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22 Things People With Mental Illness Wish Their Parents Knew

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When a child scrapes his knee, mom’s there with a Band-Aid. When a child falls ill, dad’s there with chicken soup. But what does a parent do when they can’t kiss the pain away?

Watching your child develop a mental illness — especially if you’re unfamiliar with the signs — can be confusing and rough for the whole family. For parents, it can be frustrating not knowing what to do, what to say or how to make it all better.

We asked people in our community who live with a mental illness to tell us one thing they wish their parents understood.

Here’s what they want parents to know:

1. “Your support and understanding are everything to me. I am in awe of the lengths you have gone to to try and get answers. And even when those answers didn’t come you still haven’t given up on me, even when I want to give up on myself!”

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2. “I would tell my parents (and have told them) that even though I have an illness, I still love them. They didn’t do this to me, and it wasn’t their fault. There’s probably nothing they could have don’t to have prevented it. Nature made me who I am biologically… but they made me the wonderful and caring human being that I am, as well.”

3. “Sometimes, I just feel crap. I don’t always have a explanation as to why so when you ask me, I cannot always answer. I know you want to help, but, as hard as it may be, you sometimes just have to sit back. I will get through this. I don’t know how and I don’t know when… but one day I will.”

4. “I want them to know how thankful I am for their support. It took them a while to get to that place, but I’m grateful. They took me to many appointments and paid for so many medications.”

5. “I know that you feel like you should be able to help somehow, but it isn’t up to you — medication and therapy in addition to your unconditional love and support is the best thing for me.”

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6. “I’m not doing this on purpose. This isn’t some attempt at rebellion, or a guilt trip or me trying to punish you. This is part of me, and it’s harder to deal with than you realize.”

7. “Thank you for being there for me even though it took some time to digest my illness. I appreciate all the kindness and love when I was in my darkest days. You pulled me though more than you’ll ever know.”

8. “I do not blame you for any of the problems we had when we were trying to navigate our way through my diagnoses. You guys learned all you could in a time before the Internet had the answers and before self-helps books were readily available. You were not bad parents just because you could not fix what was going on in me. You got me help, again, and again, and again and it’s OK it took more than one try to find the right person to help me because along the way I had two people who didn’t give up.”

9. “It’s not a parent’s job to fix their child (there are doctors for that). It’s a parent’s job to love, support and encourage their child so they feel a little less broken and alone.

10. “Don’t be ashamed of me. I do the best I can. It has just gotten harder getting older.”

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11. “I need someone to reassure me. I have so many doubts. I feel worthless. I feel depressed, despaired, numb. Please don’t tell me I’m not doing anything with my life. I need someone to be there for me. I need someone to tell me I’m doing everything I can to heal. I’m doing everything I can to recover. Please tell me you’re proud of me.”

12. “It’s real and it is exhausting. I wish I could be more open with you, but you can’t understand.”

13. “I know you feel helpless. I understand your feelings. But there are a lot of things you can help me with and be supportive. Sometimes practical things like going shopping for or with me can be great. Sometimes I just need someone to talk to. Or I need someone to hug me. Or I need someone to tell me that everything is going to be OK. You being supportive is really really important to me.

14. “Thank you for putting up with my roller coaster. Know that I loved you very, very much, even at my worst moments.”

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15. “You did not do anything wrong in raising me, Mom. And I will overcome this illness and be a productive member of society again one day. I just need time to let my body and soul heal. I love you more than you know for your love and support.”

16. “I love you and appreciate all that you have supported me through. Just please continue to do so, but don’t freak out if I tell you I’m going through a rough patch. When you worry about me so much, I get even more anxious and upset.”

17. “I was diagnosed as an adult. My mom was wracked with guilt. I did tell her, yes, this has been a part of me all my life. This anxiety was why I never had friends, got into trouble or went to dances like others did. No, it was not your fault. None of this is the fault of anything. It simply is what and who I am. Laying blame would be easy but wouldn’t help me one bit. The truth is that this is simply my obstacle in life, nothing more. If anything, by never pushing me, by not asking me to do the things I avoided but were ‘normal,’ you helped me immeasurably by allowing me to figure out my own ways of coping. Thank you for that. It wasn’t the first time I’d seen my mom cry, but it was the first time is seen her smile while doing it.”

18. “Mom and Dad, I wish you would’ve taken this seriously and got me the help I asked for. You’re my family, and I can’t count on you.”

19. “The most important thing you can do for me is to be supportive of the treatment plan I have chosen. Even though I still have bad days, it does not mean I’m going to give up. I appreciate you and your wisdom, but I also have to find my way.”

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20. “I don’t always have control over my emotions or reactions. I try my best to stay in control, but it’s hard to constantly fight a battle I feel like I’m losing.”

21. “Mom and Dad, thank you so much for all you have done, for all you will do and for the love you have given me. You care for me in many ways — ways that allow me to still have an active life. I wish there was a way you didn’t have to help me financially. I am grateful for all you do, but most of all I’m grateful for the love you give me every day!”

22. “It doesn’t mean you’re a bad parent.”

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

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Figuring Out How to Discipline When Your Child Has a Mental Illness

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Your kid is acting out. Parenting experts tell you to course correct your child at that very moment. So you send Johnny to his room or Bridget leaves the birthday party early. It isn’t fun or even easy but you must discipline them for their poor behavior.

When my daughter was 11 years old she melted down at her best friend’s birthday party thrashing about on the ground like a toddler having a tantrum. The other children were terrorized, their moms shielded them. As I poured a sobbing Bridget into my car, my head was hanging low, knowing those moms will spend the rest of the party discussing my parenting skills and Bridget’s nature.

Bridget isn’t evil; sometimes she gets overwhelmed by too much stimulation and acts out. Within moments of her meltdown she is back to being a cheerful little girl.

Johnny lost it because he saw the peas touching the potatoes on the plate. The plate went sailing across the room and hit the cat. The whole family is in chaos, the night is ruined and you are in tears.

Johnny wasn’t being a jerk. Johnny’s obsessive compulsive disorder kicked in, and he was fighting for his life. Peas and potatoes triggered his flight-or-fight adrenal system, and he did what you would have done if you saw a snake on your plate.

But you know what? Sometimes Johnny is a jerk, just like any 12-year boy can be. And Bridget can manipulate a situation to get what she wants, just like any 9-year old girl can.

So, how can you tell the difference? I have been walking this line for 14 years, and I still haven’t figured it out. Often I can see it in their body language or their eyes.  Sometimes when my daughter is overwhelmed with anxiety, she will get a far away look in her eyes and her body will stiffen.

But have I ever enabled her bad behavior, blaming it on her mental illness? You bet. Have I lost my cool when she was in the throes of a meltdown? Oh yeah.

The rules keep changing (the hormone years!), but I have learned a few tricks and strategies along the way.

1. I don’t try to talk rationally when they are having a hard time. Johnny cannot begin to explain why peas and potatoes shouldn’t touch. When things are calmer, I strategize with him on ways to prevent such an outburst in the future.

2. I validate their experiences. “I see you are really struggling right now,” can go a long way in letting them know you are on their side.

3. I maintain my cool, if possible. Yelling or threatening would have only escalated Bridget’s instability at the party. And I never want to model yelling as a way of getting what you want.

4. I show them unconditional love in the way I know they will understand. For some kids, it’s a hug and a cuddle or alone time with you. But you know what makes your child smile. Wait until things have normalized, though.

5. I don’t pretend it never happened. I believe that just because they couldn’t help themselves doesn’t mean they shouldn’t know how their actions had an impact on others. I discuss how it made me feel, or ask the how they thought it made others feel.

Your ace in the hole? The love you have for your child. There will be days you will win and days you will lose, so be gentle with yourself – you are doing the best you can.

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26 Messages for Guys Who Think They're 'Too Manly' for Mental Health Treatment

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What makes a man, “a man?” Strength? Independence? Invulnerability?

That question itself might be outdated and irrelevant, but its implications still have an affect on some men today. Only 4 in 10 men with daily feelings of anxiety or depression seek treatment — which is upsetting when you consider suicide is the seventh leading cause of death for males. Clearly, something isn’t lining up.

So for any man who’s not seeking help because it doesn’t align with his idea of “masculinity,” people in our mental health community have some messages for you.

Here’s why no one’s too “manly” to seek help:

1. “The manliest thing you can do is talk to someone and get help.” — Christopher Chiocca

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2. “Getting help doesn’t make you weak. It makes you even stronger.” — Mienisha Minnie Alexander

3.Mental illness is like any other serious illness. You need a doctor, medication and any other prescribed treatment. It doesn’t mean you are weak any more than a broken arm makes you less than you are. Please get the help you need.” — Tammy Fulton O’Hara

4. “I see you struggling, and it hurts me. So if not for yourself, do it for those you love.” — Abigayle Petty

5. “A strong man is one who knows his weaknesses and takes care of himself so he has the internal resources he needs to care for others.” — Suzanne Risser

6. “You’re not just a man — you’re human. Let your human side heal, and be a happy man.” — Kim Montague Foster

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7. “There is a saying we have at the Veteran Affairs: ‘It takes the strength and courage of a warrior to ask for help.'” — Delaina Conour

8. “Caring enough about yourself to get help is sexy as hell. This coming from someone with mental illnesses.” — Melichga Fariza

9. “Mental illness doesn’t choose gender.” — Davina Masunda

10. “It’s not an issue of being ‘manly’ or ‘soft’ — it’s an illness that needs to be treated. I know from experience.” — Michael Tryon

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11. “Real strength, courage and being tough is not about never feeling pain or never being scared. Real strength and courage is feeling bad or scared and still doing what is right. Real strength is having the courage to be authentic and honest, which will not only help that person, but also make someone else feel not so alone. There is strength in numbers.” — Chad Layman

12. “Given the stigma of mental illnesses, admitting you have one and getting help are probably the bravest things you can do in this world.” — Anique Brito

13. “Therapy doesn’t have to be gushy feelings at all! Think of us therapists like strategists for the mind and life. We can give you logical explanations for why your brain does what it does, and we can give you some insights into ways to rethink a few things which will then prompt your brain to act differently. I find men are often relieved how easy it is to change a few things and not lose your personality.” – Elizabeth D. Thomas

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14. “Try to see it like this: Taking care of your mental health is no different from taking care of your physical health. If your arm hurts, or you have a cold, or stomach pain, you would go see a doctor, right?” — Borderline Heart

15. “Treating yourself from the neck down isn’t healthy. Stop organ discrimination.” — Shelby Golden

16. “It’s not ‘manly’ to hide the parts of you that you can’t control; it’s ‘manly’ to face those things and fight them!” — Punki Munro

17. “It’s much easier to ask for help and get treatment for your illness than to pick up the pieces of your life if you don’t.” — Jenna Bagnini

18. “It takes a true man to admit he needs help. You don’t have to announce it to the entire world, but it takes tremendous courage to admit you need help and seek it out. My husband did it, and I am so proud of him.” — Morghan Jarvis Eckenfels

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19. “You deserve to live a life to the fullest, and that means not only being physically healthy but also mentally. Do it for yourself, do it for the people you love and the people who love you.” — Jen Sprague

20. “You don’t have to suffer. Don’t let your pride keep you struggling. Life is worth getting healthy! Been there and am there. It’s hard but worth it.” — Aubrie McShane

21. “When the challenges of life weigh too heavily on the soul we cannot see the exit, but others, men and women, have faced this same problem at some point; it’s what makes us human. Seek the advice of those who’ve been there and come out the other side, or those who’s job it is to learn from those who’ve suffered. There are answers, there are exits, we just cannot find them when we’re lost.” — Wanda Monague

22. “If the issue was diabetes or cancer, would you be too ‘manly’ to seek help? Would it be wrong to seek medical attention if you had seizures? Mental health issues are not a matter of will power. It’s a sign something is not being tended to. From my own personal viewpoint, it takes a real man to seek help when having problems rather than just pushing through.” — Kindling Dreams

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23. “Being a man who thought this, I would say, ‘It takes more strength to ask for help than it does to shoulder the burden yourself. You’re not alone. There are people out there just like you who are going through the same things. Even a soldier has an entire battalion backing him up.'” — Patrick Dovah Bowden

24. “When my husband was in the military, he feared getting treatment because it could have affected his job. We had a long discussion and it came down to our children. He decided to put his pride aside and, for the sake of having a healthy father mentally; he needed to get treatment for his PTSD. My advice: Think about the others it could affect. If you can’t or won’t do it for you, do it for them. Trust me, it’s a win-win.” — Sam Thayer

25. “Why is it OK to ask for help or advice from a broker, a mechanic, a plumber, but not from a counselor? Is the house or car or money really more important than your health or happiness?” — Heidi Sturgeon

26. “It is very hard for many men to ask for help. It is force-fed to them the whole time they are growing up: you are strong, you are tough, boys don’t cry, shake/walk it off, don’t be weak, stand up and be a man, provide, fight, know all, be all… it is not true! It is OK to hurt, it is OK to not be able to handle everything, it is OK to need help. It doesn’t make you weak to ask, it makes you smart. Tools are there to use, so use ’em. ” — Lisa Moore Sherman

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*Answers have been edited and shortened for brevity.

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Why Bernie Sanders’ Mental Health Joke Doesn’t Matter

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This weekend was one that saw both Bernie Sanders’ off-color joke during the Democratic debate and the shooting of a pastor in Idaho by a marine suffering from an undisclosed mental illness.

Both of these isolated incidents once again reveal a much larger general truth – most folks aren’t even close to knowing what they need to know in order to properly participate in a conversation about mental health. All one has to do is take a look at the comments section that accompany the countless articles that have been written about both occurrences to see that ignorance abounds.

Sanders’ comment was off-base and I didn’t think it was that funny, but it’s more a result of society’s ignorance toward mental illness than a personal attack. Sanders has taken a pretty clear stance when it comes to timely and affordable care for folks affected with a mental illness, but it’s easy to make jokes when you aren’t directly affected.

The Internet has created a culture of instant outrage. I believe getting angry about a soon-to-be forgotten and insignificant one-liner distracts us from an opportunity for real discussion. Besides, I’m sure most folks who are offended have said an inappropriate thing or two in their lives they wish they could take back.

Sanders’ comment isn’t the issue. Instead, we should be focusing on the fact that the joke was a low-hanging fruit — people with mental illnesses are such easy targets, we can often be turned into scapegoats.

We should be much more concerned about how the media is once again handling an act of violence by a white man toward another white man. One of the first pieces of information made public about the shooter was that he had a mental illness.

And to me, the tendency for that to be one of the first things brought up when a white person shoots somebody is much more dangerous than a dumb and poorly-timed joke.

Rightfully so, the past several years have seen a rise in public outrage when non-white shooters are automatically branded as thugs or terrorists. The same standards don’t seem to apply when dealing with white shooters and mental illness.

Second amendment rights advocates love to use the maxim about guns not killing people, but recently there’s been a second part added to that worn-out dismissal of the danger of guns — “mentally ill people kill people.

The problem with mental illness being the go-to story when it comes to shootings by white folks is that it presents completely inaccurate portrayal of the demographic. The contribution of the mentally ill to overall crime rates is actually an extremely low 3 to 5 percent.

As it turns out, folks with psychiatric disabilities are far more likely to be victims than perpetrators of violent crimes. But despite that, a study of American’s overall attitudes on mental health conducted over nearly 50 years found the proportion of Americans who describe mental illness in terms consistent with violent or dangerous behavior nearly doubled over that time. Many of those surveyed believed that folks with mental illnesses posed a threat for violence towards others and themselves.

Bernie Sanders isn’t a catalyst; just as one man with a mental illness shooting a pastor is more anomaly than norm. The problem doesn’t begin or end with either case, but both cases point out why it’s so important that we change the way we portray and talk about mental illness.

The vast majority of news stories on mental illnesses focus on negative characteristics such as unpredictability and unsociability. Positive stories that highlight the recovery of folks are notably absent.

Pop culture doesn’t help. Characters with mental illness on television shows are depicted as the most dangerous of all groups. In fact, 60 percent of television characters afflicted by mental illness carry out violent crimes and act as the antagonist.

As mental health advocates and allies, I believe we can more effectively help by sticking to facts and statistics rather than wasting our time being outraged over a dumb one-liner in an election cycle filled with polarizing candidates.

There have been so many articles and blog posts regarding Bernie Sanders’ attempt at a joke, but I’ve hardly seen any showing concern for mental illness being blamed once again for a nationally publicized act of violence.

I believe the effects of the stigma and discrimination caused by stories like the Idaho pastor shooting are profound and wide-reaching. Said stigma leads others to avoid living and socializing with those diagnosed with a mental illness. It also leads to hesitation when it comes to working with, renting to or employing people with diagnosed mental disorders.

This is a problem on a couple of fronts. First, it compounds feelings of low self-esteem, isolation and hopelessness which are already hallmarks of some mental illnesses. More importantly, it deters the public from seeking out the care they so desperately need because of the embarrassment and shame attached to stigma.

In response to this stigma, people with mental health problems can internalize public attitudes, begin to conceal symptoms and fail to seek treatment, which can have deadly result.

As somebody who suffers from a mental illness, I understand the burden we can carry and how easy it is develop a proverbial chip on our shoulders. I also understand that if we focus on one stupid joke by a guy who likely had no malicious intent, we are veering away from the bigger problem.

Focusing on that bigger problem allows us to demonstrate on a larger scale how conversations about mental health are framed, and done effectively, can provide us with the ability to reframe those conversations and educate a misinformed public.

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