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Have We Gone Too Far Worrying About Stigma?

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When is fun crossing the line into offensive?

Do the names of Halloween attractions really matter?

Are we even focusing on the right thing when we light our torches and grab our pitchforks and march on the company who had the audacity to create an attraction poking fun at mental illness?

The Knotts Scary Farm debate forced them to back down and change the name of their attraction, from FearVR: 5150 to just FearVR.

Should they have had to do this?

As a person who lives every day with a mental illness, I say no. I have bipolar disorder, and I still haven’t lost the ability to laugh at myself, or the ludicrousness that can be bipolar disorder.

I’ve been held under an involuntary psychiatric hold, or a 5150.

And I’m not roiling with indignation that this happened.

Personally, I feel we’ve lost our eye on the prize, which is real policies and changes that will help those living with mental illnesses. I feel like more people are shouting the mantra of “No more stigma! No more stigma!” than are fighting the good fight with their congressmen and local politicians.

Why is this important? Because if we get so consumed in “fighting stigma” and don’t stay passionate about effecting real changes, those real changes won’t be made.

I understand the argument that people learn misconceptions when those with mental illness are portrayed as dangerous, but I feel like we could do more of a service by flooding the media with examples of people who have mental illness and are succeeding.

I feel like we’ve spent entirely too much time calling out “stigma,” and not enough time showing just how strong we are, even with a disease or disability that makes us work harder.

So, what is to be done? I think for one, we’ve got to stop getting angry at companies when they do something we don’t like. Save our energy for the bigger battles, when an atrocity really is happening. For two, we’ve got to recognize when something is in good fun, and when something truly is in poor taste. And for three, learn to laugh. Laughter truly is the best medicine sometimes.

I think if we could learn to do these three things, we’d been less exhausted from having to stay indignant all the time, and more able to see when something really needs to be fought for, and then have the energy to do that.

Stigma is real, but I think we’ve got to learn to recognize when someone is truly stigmatizing against a cause, and when it’s not worth our time.

Originally published: September 27, 2016
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