Why We Use the Term ‘Mental Illness’ at Project UROK


Fear of the name only increases the fear of
the thing itself. Dumbledore said that, and though he wasn’t talking about mental illness,
he might as well have been. I’m Jenny Jaffe. I’m the founder of Project UROK, and I live
with mental illness. Something really interesting happens when you actually use the words “mental
illness”. If I came on here, and I said “I have OCD, I have anxiety, I have depression”,
all those things are true, but they don’t sound quite as big and scary as saying “I
have mental illness”. Mental illness invokes images of these people who are unstable, of
people who are mean, of people who are scary to be around. And most of the time, that’s
not the case. One in four Americans struggle with mental illness, and those numbers are
pretty consistent worldwide. So that means either you or somebody you know and love has
a diagnosable mental illness, and that’s okay. Mental illness like any chronic illness is
a spectrum, and it means a lot of different things for a lot of different people. What’s
not okay is how our media chooses to portray it. Something really interesting happened
in the wake of the Germanwing’s tragedy last week. If you’ve been watching the news,
I’m sure you know that a pilot for a German airline committed suicide by crashing a plane
full of passengers into a mountain side. That’s an absolutely horrendous tragedy, and it’s
a completely inexcusable action for anyone to take no matter how they may have personally
been feeling. What’s interesting about the media coverage though is that they have been
using the phrase “mental illness” to describe this individual. He was depressed. Depression
is a mental illness. He had a mental illness. Now, I’m fine with them saying he had a
mental illness.What’s interesting is that later that week when Jon Hamm was revealed
to have been in rehab for alcoholism, the media referred to his addiction, they referred
to him seeing treatment, but they never once referred to his addiction as a mental illness.
now don’t get me wrong here, I am not equating Jon Hamm seeking help for his alcoholism to
the Germanwing’s pilot committing suicide by killing an entire plane full of innocent
victims. What Jon Hamm did was brave and took a lot of guts. And he’s setting a good example
for people across the world. What I am saying is that they both suffer from mental illness.
It took very different forms, and they dealt with it in very different ways. We only apply the term mental illness to a
travesty. We are saying that mental illness is scary. We are forcing people who are coming
out about their depression to go back into the proverbial closet for fear they will be
stigmatized along with people who commit crimes that they would never be capable of. If you’re
coming out, say: look Jon Hamm personally all like has a mental illness too. We’re
encouraging people to seek help. We’re showing people with mental illness that we value them
and their lives. Now yesterday, I guess it was announced that a celebrity dermatologist
named Dr. Brant tragically took his own life. In the media reporting, I’ve seen a lot
of fingers being pointed at jokes that were made about him on the show the unbreakable kimmy schmidt. I’ve seen a lot of people wondering what external factors must have been a part of
his external action, and all of this seems to me like a really good way for the media
to avoid talking about mental illness. The pattern that’s become clear is we only assign
the term mental illness to people adding little to no value to society. Until we can talk about people who are successful,
who are well-liked, who are powerful, who are rich as being mentally ill, we will continue
to create a world in which it’s unsafe to be honest about your own mental illness and
we’re creating a world which is unsafe to admit that you have a problem and you need
help. Now, obviously, this is only one very very small piece of a much larger societal
problem. Obviously, right now, I am basically talking about semantics, but I’m going to
go ahead and quote Dumbledore one more time. Words are, in my not so humble opinion, our
most inexhaustible source of magic capable of both inflicting injury and remedy. Encouraging
our major media outlets to start thinking about the way they’re using the term mental
illness is not the solution to our society’s deep stigmatization of mental health, but
it’s a great way to start. In the next week, I’ll be launching Project
UROK, which is dedicated to showcasing a wide array digital content by people with mental
illness for teens and young adults. In doing so, we hope to showcase the diversity of mental
illness, the effects across class lines, race lines, gender, sexuality. Bad news is that
mental illness doesn’t care who you are or where you came from. It can affect anyone,
but the good news is that you’re not alone. And you are okay. If you’re out there and
you’re struggling with mental illness, and you don’t know how to ask for help, we will
be launching a full list of resources for you on Project UROK in the next week or so.
And until then, please follow us on social media at Project UROK, and on Instagram at
Project UROK, we’ll be posting some helpful resources there. We’ll also be linking to
the national suicide hotline and some other helpful emergency numbers below if you’re
in a crisis situation. I’m just gonna wrap up by saying if you are somebody who struggles
with mental illness, don’t be ashamed to use that terminology. You can be setting a
really good example for people around you. You are okay, and you rock!!

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