Wednesday, 12 March 2014

"Mental People Can't Read or Write"

When you're surrounded by people that are similar to yourself, you tend to find that everybody has similar attitudes and beliefs. Since I've been diagnosed with Anxiety and Depression, I have found myself surrounded by a community of very understanding people, many of whom have first hand experience of mental illness. It's easy to forget that the rest of the world isn't so knowledgeable on the subject.

At work I am currently working on a project where we are giving away a load of notepads and pens to local community groups. I was speaking to someone about it the other day, and told them how my company would be donating pads and pens to a mental health charity.

They said, 'That's a funny choice of groups you've chosen to give notepads and pens to.'
 To which I was confused and replied 'Why's that?'
'Well, mental people, they don't really read and write, do they?'

I was so completely flabbergasted (sorry no other word that better describes my complete shock), that I didn't even know where to begin in dispelling that myth. I wish I had replied, because there is so much I wanted to say, but it caught me completely off guard. I didn't say anything, I was speechless. Our conversation ended right there, and I just carried on doing whatever it was I was doing. Needless to say they didn't know I have mental health issues.

I mean, are people really that ignorant? Do they imagine people in padded white cells in straight jackets? I can imagine others not understanding what goes on in people's minds to make them 'insane', but surely they don't truly believe that we can't READ AND WRITE?

The way this person said this remark was like this was common sense, or a well known fact about sufferers of mental health. Like, does the pope have a balcony? It wasn't their opinion, they didn't hate 'mental people' or believe that they shouldn't have pens and paper. They honestly believed we wouldn't need them.

I get on really well with this person. They're not a bad person and they're not trying to be ignorant. If they knew a loved one was suffering with mental health issues they'd probably do their utmost to help them. Yet, at this point in time, their only concept of mental illness is some strange Hollywood film character.

I'm not even offended by this belief. I don't despise them. I don't want to laugh at them. I'm completely shocked. What has society done that means people think this way?

This remark has made me realise how important the #TimeToTalk campaign really is. As a society we really need to have a greater universal understanding of what mental health is, because some people's ideas are wildly off the mark.

Has anybody else been subjected to such complete and utter ignorance?


  1. That is genuinely odd and not something I've come across before.

  2. I could not have peacefully handled myself in that situation like you did. My bite might have surpassed my bark.
    Ignorance... Family comes to mind, namely, my sister. She kept asking the Dr at the hospital I was in after my last suicide attempt if I might have some kind of brain injury. After 20-some years of this crap. She just could not accept my diagnoses, and thinks I'm just selfish, and looking for attention. Not!

    1. I think I would have gone off on one if it had properly registered as to what this person was saying! This opinion was so alien to me I couldn't believe what I was hearing!

      I'm so sorry to hear your sister doesn't understand. So many people don't understand the way mental illness works that their only explanation for it is that they're looking for attention. I've known so many people to do that, it's so common. I hope you find a way to help your sister understand. Thanks for your comment!

  3. Boy! Do I hear that! Before I got so sick that I couldn't work due to schizophrenia/addictions I made the Dean's List in Engineering @ Purdue. Now I am in the process of writing a series of novels describing my thoughts while experiencing untreated hallucinations from my schizophrenia and how the hallucinations were so convincing that for over seven years I actually believed that the psychosis was real!

    1. Wow sounds interesting! Good luck with it. Let me know how you get on with it - would love to read. Many of the best and most interesting writers have struggled with mental health issues, namely Sylvia Plath. I find writing to be an enormous help to my condition, as it helps me to understand and order my thoughts. The idea that 'mental people can't read or write' is complete bollocks!

  4. "At work......They said, 'That's a funny choice of groups you've chosen to give notepads and pens to.'....'mental people, they don't really read and write, do they?' "

    Encapsulated here is in my view the essence of what gives rise to much of the antipathy many people feel and define mental illness, for a start there is work, a sometimes literal goldmine of repugnance. Secondly, what worse way to spend one's time than in idle chatter with people you genuinely wouldn't miss if they felll off the earth?
    An answer for the fortuitously idle, "doing it at work, and doing it on the way to and from work".
    All good things take time, fools rush in where angels fear to tread, how much of modern interaction seems rushed, insincere and immediately forgettable?

    "I find writing to be an enormous help to my condition"
    I find it to be an enormous help to the "Human Condition", so long may you continue, and long may you continue to outgrow your personal limitations in whatever form they appear

    1. Thank you so much for your kind and thoughtful comment. I completely agree, ignorant attitudes are spread through meaningless idle chatter. If I'd have been more on guard for it I would have challenged it. I know for next time. Hopefully this post will be seen by that sort of person and help others to challenge their own beliefs. That's why I write, after all.