How You Does Ally, Part I: Allyship With the Mentally Ill Community

Content/tw: cursing, discussion of saneism

I’m probably going to do at least two of these; one about allyship to the mentally ill community and one about allyship to the Autistic community. I might also do one about allyship to cluster B people. And maybe one for the whole Disabled community, but that’s so huge and diverse, I might have to break it up. We’ll see. But I’m starting with a list of how to be a good ally to mentally ill people in general…well, with a few examples that are specific to certain disorders. Here we go:

  1. This goes for being an ally to any marginalized group: don’t get your knickers in a twist over metonymy. Metonymy is a figure of speech that uses thing X, which is associated with thing Y, to refer to thing Y; for example, the phrase “America is enacting racist policies” really means “the American government is enacting racist policies”. Similarly, “I fucking hate men” means “I fucking hate systemic misogyny and the fact that men act as oppressors due to systemic misogyny” and “mentally healthy people suck” means “saneism sucks and the fact that mentally healthy people act as oppressors due to saneism also sucks”. If you’re mentally healthy and hear an MI person complaining about mentally healthy people, don’t get all pissy and offended. And if you do get pissy and offended, maybe think about about how much you really care about the rights of mentally ill people.
  2. Remove saneist language, especially insults, from your vocabulary. Don’t call gunsexual right-wingers with their heads up their asses “ins*ne”; call them gunsexual right-wingers with their heads up their asses. Don’t call selfish, violent assholes “p*****paths”; call them selfish, violent assholes. Don’t even call that party you went to last night “cr*zy”; call it “wild”.
  3. Similarly, I’ve touched on this before, but don’t blame violence or bigotry on mental illness. Mental illness is a horrible predictor of whether or not someone will be violent or bigoted.
  4. For that matter, correct your friends and family when they use saneist language (assuming it is safe for you to do so). If you know someone who is MI and uses saneist language, well, internalized saneism is wicked hard to shake, and that should probably be handled by another MI person. Also, they could be reclaiming the terms. But definitely correct other mentally healthy people who are contributing to bigotry against mentally ill people if you can.
  5. Do not, under any circumstances, refer to suicide as being “cowardly” or “selfish”. I don’t care if you’ve been suicidal and telling yourself that suicide is cowardly or selfish kept you alive, because a lot of suicidal people believe that their loved ones would be better off with them dead or that they deserve to die. And being shamed for being suicidal may make them feel worse or even push them over the edge. Trying to shame someone into staying alive is…well, I find it morally reprehensible. Don’t do it.
  6. If someone is not a veteran and has PTSD, do not give them shit for it. I mean, sexual assault is approximately as likely to cause PTSD as serving in the military (source: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/books/NBK56506/). Anyone who experiences trauma can get PTSD; it isn’t just soldiers.
  7. Respect people’s triggers. Triggers can be anything from gunshot-like sounds to the cologne someone’s abuser used to wear. If someone says something is a trigger for them, no matter how silly it may seem to you, respect that and do everything you can not to trigger them.
  8. Use trigger and content warnings. (A content warning is ordinarily for mention/brief discussion of something while a trigger warning is for a vivid description of it/showing it.) Like I mentioned, triggers can be anything, but if you’re producing content for a large audience, the best things to warn for are what I call The Trifecta: abuse (specify the type; sexual, physical, emotional, etc.), murder/death, and bigotry. Other good things to warn for are pedophilia, blood, extreme violence, cruelty to animals, drugs (recreational or medicinal), alcohol, explosions, war, and corpses.
  9. If someone says they can’t eat a certain thing, eat in front of people, or go to a certain restaurant, respect that. Eating disorders are fucking bastards.
  10. Understand that therapy and medication aren’t right for everyone. Some people get side effects worse than their symptoms. Some people have medical trauma and can’t safely go to therapists’ offices. Some people have had such shitty therapists that they are afraid to go back to therapy. Whatever the case, mentally ill people deserve to have autonomy over their treatment.
  11. But on the other side of the coin, don’t fucking med shame. Many MI people need our medication to be healthy. Some of us need it to fucking live. Yes, late-stage capitalism is inherently unethical and pharmaceutical companies profit off of the suffering of mentally ill people who need medication. But in your zeal to take down “Big Pharma”, don’t you fucking dare piss on people who need psychiatric meds. No, we’re not just throwing chemicals at the vagaries of life because we’re “weak” or “lazy”. It’s more along the lines of “if you can’t make your own neurotransmitters, getting them from the pharmacy works too”.
  12. If you live in the United States, DO NOT CALL THE POLICE ON MENTALLY ILL PEOPLE. They don’t know how to deal with us. They’ll probably just kill us. Okay? Okay. This goes double if the MI person in distress is a person of color. The only exception to this is if the person in distress requests that you call the police.
  13. Excommunicate yourself from the Cult of Forced Positivity. Don’t ever tell a depressed person that happiness is a choice. Don’t ever tell a person with anxiety that they just need to relax. Don’t ever tell a borderline person that they just have to decide not to be afraid of abandonment. Don’t ever tell a person with body dysmorphic disorder to choose to love their body. Choosing to not be mentally ill is fucking impossible. Also, putting so much emphasis on how happiness is mandatory shames people who experience not only depression, but many other mood disorders, and makes them feel like it’s not okay for them to discuss or even experience their symptoms.
  14. Similarly, if you don’t have a mental illness, don’t give advice on how to deal with it unless you are asked. Just don’t. We’re fucking sick of hearing how doing pilates in the woods at sunrise will cure our neurotransmitter imbalances.
  15. I have mentioned this before, but don’t claim you’re “a little OCD” if you like things neat or “a little anorexic” because you didn’t have that second donut. If you think you might have that illness, go ahead. If you definitely don’t have an illness, don’t talk about having it. It minimizes the experiences of people who are actually MI.
  16. Do not feel entitled. If a MI person tells you what their triggers are or what they can’t eat or that they need you to reassure them about something, you are not entitled to any further information about their mental illness. Don’t ask why we have the triggers we do or why we can’t eat that food or why we need to hear that you don’t hate us. Just give us the respect we deserve and don’t pry.
  17. Finally, practice “pass the mic” activism. Center and amplify mentally ill voices when it comes to conversations about mental illness. Take the recent conversation about how mental illness is not a predictor of whether or not someone will shoot up a school. Sure, it’s good to cite forensic psychologists who say that mental illness is a terrible predictor of violence. But about every mentally ill person either could have also told you that, and trust me, we are Tweeting and Facebooking and blogging and screaming about it.

I think that’s all I have for now. Go forth and be a not-asshole about mental illness.

 

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thisisforyoucarrie View All →

Mentally ill activist and angry Disabled loudmouth. Neuroqueer as hell.

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