Fighting back the stigma that “People with mental illness are just lazy”

Recently I published a blog for the Huffington Post’s Young Voices, and the response was overwhelmingly positive – in fact I’m still in awe of the lovely comments, pledges to fight stigma and speak out. However, some were not so lovely. Unfortunately in this world there is always someone who will disagree with you, or have opposing, yet strong opinions, but this time I’m not going to stand by and let them shout about something when, in my opinion, they are completely wrong.

Huffington Post UK shared my blog –  ‘Mental Illness doesn’t make you any less human – don’t be afraid to speak up’  – via their social media streams, which I am incredibly thankful for! But, this was one of the comments the post received:

“Depression!!…Didn’t have time to get depressed when i was young,to busy fighting a war and working 60 hours a week to raise a family…It’s bunkum just a way to claim benefits,get off your fat lazy back sides and get a job and a hobby!”

Naturally this comment made me incredibly annoyed and frustrated, I’m not the only person sharing my story, and I am certainly not the only person dealing with mental illness. The strange thing is sometimes depression convinces me that I am making everything up, that I am a failure and that I should just quit. Comments like the above add to the horrible stigma of mental illness.

Fortunately many others replied, fighting back (politely of course), and this was my response to the comment:

“Did you not read the post [name removed]… I suffer with depression and more. I’m not on benefits, in fact there’s been points where I’ve had four jobs at once, spoke in the House of Lords about something completely unrelated to mental health, I’ve worked multiple times with the House of Commons, the BBC, multiple reputable institutions (including the Royal Navy, The Environment Agency, the Coastguard and the National Trust), I’ve also worked tirelessly fundraising (voluntarily) for marginalised youths and more… so thanks for your arrogance, but you are completely wrong.” (Ella Robson, 2015)

Unfortunately this isn’t the first time I’ve received comments, or seen comments of this nature on other peoples blogs. And quite frankly I’ve had enough. Stigma is too frequent, too harmful and certainly not welcome. The wonder of the internet means that once you post something (comment, blog or whatever) it is pretty much there forever. I hope I’m not being too silly re-posting the above comment, but it was made publicly on social media, so it’s already there for the world to see, and I want to do something to try and break down this stigma. 

Also, I’d like to note that I’m not necessarily picking on this one person, I’m just fed up with this type of outdated, negative portrayal and I feel I have the platform to do something about it. 

Source: Ella Robson / Dearest Someone, 2015.
Source: Ella Robson / Dearest Someone, 2015.
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15 comments

  1. You sound inspiring Ella. In my experience it is not unusual for people who experience depression and other mental health struggles to be hopeful and effective and especially compassionate people, at least when not at their most depressed. And with some experiences of depression, or at other times, or in some sets of life circumstances, people have less evidence or resource to stand up against such attacks. And that is what it is of course an attack. To me that is key here. From what state of mind do we attack others. Reactivity too can be a symptom of depression and other struggles. We often hit out when we are feeling bad about ourselves. As you say here, we certainly hit out at ourselves when we are depressed. The person who attacked you is not being kind to themselves. They are not feeling good about themselves. From their account, I guess they experienced a lot of trauma and loss too. Your response is steady and holds your ground. Thank you for taking a firm and kind stand.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Hi Emily, thank-you so much for this comment! I couldn’t agree with you more, it is my personal view that this particular individual was possibly searching for mental health topics online, which of course leads me to question many different things!

      One thing I will say though is that even though I’m very fortunate to have many great resources to draw upon in regards to where I’ve worked I certainly 100% have days where I can’t even face getting out of bed. I know only too well how horrible depression can be and I don’t want it to be portrayed so negatively! People deal with trauma in different ways, definitely! And the person who posted this comment may have seen trauma, and I do feel empathy toward that, but at the same time we all have our own personal battles. So I of course know that I cannot see what that person has seen, but it’s not fair for ‘him’ to be so critical of others 😦

      The internet can be used for ace things, but sometimes that’s not the case aye! x

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Absolutely! 🙂 And your integrity shines through. It doesn’t do us or anyone else any good does it when we attack others as ‘he’ has here (haha she says battling against her own quite loud internal attacks on herself right now – sigh) I guess humour really helps too doesn’t it, being able to take ourselves with a pinch of salt. You have helped me shift out of some negative self talk today – thank you! Here is a piece i posted a while back:

    Recipe

    Homemade Loathe

    Pluck angry words ripe, remove all stems
    Throw in a generous handful of accusations, preferably out of date
    Add twist of bitter lemon and plenty of sour grapes
    Ferment
    Kneedlessly beat repeatedly
    Leave to rise in darkest corner for as long as possible
    Apply heat until overcooked
    Eat dry, without kindness
    Serves (no) one

    Optional ingredients

    Add a pinch of salt

    Liked by 3 people

  3. Well I live in the States (and I’ll probably never be invited to speak in front of Britian’s House of Lords, although I do hope to visit the UK someday soon) and I’ve had depression and PTSD since before I even knew what those things were. I was diagnosed at age 35 because that was the first time I actually sought treatment with a mental health professional. But for years before that, there were days I didn’t want to get out of bed, whole chunks of time I felt too worthless to exist. The fact that I self-medicated with lots of alcohol didn’t help, as most people know alcohol is a depressant. So many times I heard “Oh you’re just lazy” or “You need a good, swift kick in the ass” (both phrases my own mother repeated as though she were a broken record), and I got used to hearing how I could have made straight A’s all through high school, college, grad school, if I hadn’t been “so goddamned lazy”, as she put it.

    The TRUTH is I finished high school, I graduated college, I earned a Master’s Degree, all while I sufferd from depression & PTSD, and while I was an actice alcoholic. Did I make straight A’s the whole way through? Oh hell no, but a couple semesters of college I WAS on the Dean’s list, I had the grades for it. I wasn’t lazy or stupid or unwilling to apply myself. I had no friends, no romantic partners. Truth be told, I didn’t have any real friends until I got sober and started therapy for depression & that wasn’t until I was 35.

    Liked by 2 people

    • Hi Cara,

      Thank-you for being so open! The simple fact that you fought really hard to finish high school, to graduate college AND finish a Masters degree (I’m currently finishing my MA now and boy oh boy it’s stressful haha!) Truth be told I was diagnosed years after I first started suffering (I still have no idea how I got through college – in the UK college is the one before uni) and man I didn’t even want to go to University. If anything, I think my mental illness has pushed me to try and be my best self. I definitely have rough days (more often than not) and I have days where I can only be productive for an hour max, which can be pretty self-deflating. But, I know how strong I am for simply battling my own self, and I think that’s something that you’ve done, and I really really hope you know how awesome you are! 🙂

      Liked by 2 people

  4. I have to admit that I used to be one of those ignorant people. I used to say that depression is a selfish disease. If you stop thinking about yourself, you won’t be depressed. Thankfully, I was allowed to learn empathy. I was hit with major depression to the point of two suicide attempts. This depression was a seven year long struggle involving therapists and diet changes. I speak more about it on my blog in the about page.

    I understand both sides of the issue. We tend to say things that are completely wrong because we are ignorant of the complexity of the issue and things seems logical from our perspective (speaking on the side of one who hasn’t experienced depression). It seems like something you can snap out of when you’re on the outside looking it. But, when you actually experience depression, you realize that it truly is a mental illness. As we would never tell someone with a flu or with diabetes to “snap out of it”, we can’t do it to one who is struggling with a mental illness. Of course, the one with a mental illness should seek help, but even still, this can be a struggle that lasts for years, if not the rest of a person’s life. We need more empathy for people. Instead of attacking one another because we don’t understand, we should be striving to understand one another. To do that though, we need to stop talking and start listening. There aren’t too many people willing to do that anymore.

    Like

    • I agree with your point that you cannot really understand depression/mental illness until you experience it. I can guarantee there would have been times in the past when I’ve used phrases like ‘depressed’ or ‘manic’ without knowing how stigmatizing they are. Now that I have experienced mental illness I often stumble when I find myself about to use the words ‘crazy’ or ‘insane.’ I’m much more sensitive to stigma since I’ve been diagnosed and I think that simply trying to break down stigma in everyday conversation is as important as striving to understand one another. There definitely needs to be more empathy, and more discussion about what stigma is!

      Thank-you for your comment 🙂

      Like

  5. Well done for speaking up Ella. You are right too many people have very critical views on mental health. From considering it an excuse to be lazy to an excuse to use derogatory language about people with no mental illness. These same people are more than likely the ones who cry “mental health” every time there is an atrocious murder aswell, which is another part of the stigma boat which winds me up no end!

    Like

  6. Reblogged this on Motivational Hamster and commented:
    Hear hear! Even when I was in a psychiatric hospital I didn’t claim benefits. Fortunately, my partner was working and I didn’t feel the need to apply. I have a Master’s degree and a full time job. I have functioned highly and hardly functioned at all but still suffered greatly. I feel sorrow for those who lack compassion even if they don’t fully understand because they do not experience the full beautiful range of emotions which is what makes us human.

    Liked by 1 person

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