I see a common sentiment echoed in the communities who advocate for better mental health access, understanding, and decreasing of stigma against people with mental health issues: “What if we treated physical disabilities/ailments the way we treat mental health?” For example, this comic. Or this comic. Or this other comic. I’ve seen dozens more, but you get the picture.
I absolutely agree that there is a stigma against people with mental health issues. There is also a huge lack of access to mental health treatments. Take, for example, this quote from the story of the Virginia State Senator was stabbed by his son, who then committed suicide:
The Richmond Times-Dispatch reported Tuesday that he had been given a mental health evaluation under an emergency custody order Monday but was released because no psychiatric bed could be located across a wide area of western Virginia, Dennis Cropper, executive director of the Rockbridge Area Community Services Board, told the newspaper.
Of course, then with stories like this, people start to believe that people with mental health issues are more likely to be violent, when in truth, people with mental health issues are more likely to be victims of violence than perpetrators, and most people who commit violent acts against others do not have mental health issues.
My point is, there definitely are problems with how we (as a society) deal with mental health issues. I am not contesting that in any way.
What I am saying is that the idea that we treat people with physical ailments with sympathy and courtesy all the time is completely false. Yes, some people say mental illness is just “in your head” or not real. They say that about some physical ailments as well. As a person with a physical disability, I am routinely told that I just need to “suck it up” or “work through it,” sometimes even by medical professionals (though usually not in those exact words). For example, in the Robot Hugs comic, the second panel says “You just need to change your frame of mind. Then you’ll feel better.” I know I’m not alone when I say people have said that to me about my disease (if you’ve had a similar experience, please share it in the comments). Not to mention how often people say things like, “Oh, if I had X disability, I’d kill myself!” Wow, thanks!
Rules and laws that were created to protect people with disabilities are routinely violated for people with physical ailments again and again by the TSA. A news station in Washington, D.C. did some investigating into how often people with visible physical disabilities (e.g., blind people with service dogs, people in wheelchairs) are ignored by cab drivers or charged extra when it is illegal to do so (the not-so-shocking results? It happens a lot.). The government also discriminates against people with physical disabilities during disaster evacuation.
Not to mention, the laws that are in place to protect and help disabled people often have loopholes that allow employers and organizations to discriminate against people. For example, The Americans with Disabilities Act only applies to workplaces with 15 or more employees— meaning it is completely legal for an employer to openly discriminate against or terminate an employee with a disability if they have 14 or fewer employees. The Family Medical Leave Act only applies to workplaces with 50 or more employees. So if you’re a person with a disability and you want to work for a small, local business or a small non profit– well, good luck. The reasoning behind this is that it “protects” small business, which quite frankly, is a load of bullshit. We don’t need to protect businesses, we need to protect people. To say that the profits of a business come before the rights of a disabled person is simply saying that disabled people are not as important as money.
By suggesting that we treat people with physical ailments better than we treat people with mental ones, it sets up a competition. We shouldn’t treat people with mental illnesses the way we treat people with physical ones. We should strive to treat both groups well– better than we treat either group currently.
Featured image from Robot Hugs.