(If you want to see the live performance, please go here)
I am no Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. I am too young, too angry, too emotionally charged, too crazy. That’s right, crazy. I am “crazy.” The people whose rights and safety I fight for every day are “crazy.” Because that’s how society sees us. That’s how society sees people with mental illness. We are crazy and insane, and we all need to be locked away into mental institutions. We need to be drugged literally out of our minds, and we need to disappear from society. That is the societal stigma that I face every day as a person with a mental illness. That is the concrete wall that I run up against every time I try to open up about my mental illness, my depression.
And that’s not to say that I face such drastic and/or dramatic stigma every single day, no. The stigma against mental illness tends to be quieter, a hidden undercurrent most people can (and do) ignore. It is the daily microaggressions that me and people like me, people with mental illness, from seeking support from those around us. It is the everyday language of the people around us that make us think we are actually “crazy.” It is the “What’s wrong with them? Those people should be locked away before they kill someone. Remember our middle school emo phase? When we all wanted to cut ourselves and kill ourselves? Wow, she’s a psycho, you don’t want to date her. The homeless person probably has schizophrenia, and you don’t want to die.”
It is the misunderstood words of our loved ones. “Just smile. Watch a comedy movie. Stop being sad. Why are you so nervous all the time? That’s dumb. You’re being stupid. I thought you were stronger.” It is the romanticization of serious, debilitating illness. “You just haven’t found the right person. He’ll help you stop cutting. Suicidal people are just angels who want to go to heaven. Scars are so pretty. That test made me want to kill myself. I’m so OCD. I probably have ADHD.” These are all real things that I have heard people say, real quotes from my life.
So I ask you, how can society isolate, ignore, insult so many people on a daily basis? How can society systematically oppress minority groups every day? How can society shut us down at every turn? How can we do anything when we face this overwhelming stigma every time we try to reach out? How can we do anything if we’re just criminals-to-be who need to be drugged up and locked away? How can we do anything if we are not allowed to participate in society, if we are undeserving of that very basic right?
I can’t answer those questions. Because there is no reason, no explanation, no justification for this inhuman treatment. Instead of trying to answer those questions, I fight every day to make them irrelevant. I fight to end the stigma against mental illness. I fight to stop the microaggressions against people with mental illness. I fight to break out of the silence that society has impressed on us.
I said before that I am no Dr. King. And I am not. I do not have his eloquence, his charisma, his ability to command the attention of thousands of people. But I am like him in that I am fighting for basic human rights. My movement is like his in that it is dedicated to attaining equal rights for the oppressed, the minority that has been shunned and silenced.
His movement and mine both fight for equal rights, both unite the oppressed into loud, passionate protest at society’s view of us. But whereas Dr. King and the civil rights movement mainly had to fight the law at every step of the way, I have to fight my peer. My neighbor. My classmate. My supervisor. My boss. My family. My parents and cousins and nieces and nephews.
Because those who are part of my movement are united, not by the color of our skin, not by the shared culture of our people, no. We are united by our suffering. And I will not allow this to continue, this suffering in silence, this suffering of each individual by themself. And that is why I am here. That is why I speak out about mental illness and the stigma that people with mental illnesses face. That is why I do speeches and spoken word performances. That is why I work to hold awareness campaigns and educational workshops, here on our campus. That is why my fellow stigma fighters work to compile resources and show students that they can get help. Because 1 in 4 students here at UCLA will struggle with a mental illness.
The silenced suffering of so many people across the nation is why I am part of organizations like Active Minds and To Write Love on Her Arms, to advocate for the presence of mental health issues in mainstream society. That is why I work to show society that people with mental illness aren’t crazy, that all we need is a little extra support.
But god, if it isn’t slow-going. Because we are blocked every step of the way. Because society doesn’t want to listen to us or see us or acknowledge us. Society wants us to stay quiet and out of sight. Why? Because we make society uncomfortable. Because we are supposed to be separate. Because if we’re present, by simply being present in society, we challenge society’s beliefs about us. And I want everyone to know that it is okay to have anxiety and depression. It is okay to talk about self-injury and suicide and to need some extra help and support for those issues. Mental illnesses are invisible but real, and they affect so many people all over the world. And if we’re making people uncomfortable when we talk about it, then that means we’re doing our jobs. That means people are listening and learning. That means people aren’t ignoring us.
People with mental illnesses like myself are here and present for this movement, as small-scale as it is right now, and we will fight the stigma every day until it no longer exists. We will refuse to stand in silence at every microaggression heard. We will fight every stigmatized word, every false belief, every myth about mental illness. We will show society that we are capable, that we will break the stigma against mental illness. That we will tear down those isolating, silencing walls so that people with mental illness do not have to suffer alone. I know it will be a long, difficult fight, but we will never be silenced in our battle against stigma. Because like our campus’s All of Us campaign says, we may not all have mental illness, but we all have mental health. And we all have a voice. And we will never be silent again.