Mental Illness – It’s Your Fault
One of the frustrating things about having a mental illness is how often people say (or intimate) that the mental illness is your fault. Oh sure, they might not come right out and say, “You’re to blame for your bipolar,” (although some people do) but they might just say:
- You wouldn’t be bipolar if you didn’t take all those meds
- Your diet [eating wheat, dairy, etc.] is causing your mental illness
- You wouldn’t be depressed if you exercised more
- Your mental illness is “all in your head”
- Your bipolar is made up by your psychiatrist
- Mental illness is your punishment for not being Christian (or not being faithful enough)
And so on and so forth pretty much until my head is about to explode.
But here’s a newsflash – mental illness isn’t your fault. My bipolar isn’t my fault. No illness is the sufferer’s fault and I’m tired of having to defend myself to others just because my illness is “mental.”
Your Cancer is Your Fault
See, no one would tell a cancer sufferer that it is their own fault. And that’s because it isn’t. Cancer is a product of genetics, environment and lifestyle. Some people who have never smoked a cigarette in their lives will get lung cancer while others who have smoked their whole lives will not. Life is not fair and cancer does not discriminate.
And mental illness is exactly the same. Bipolar disorder, depression and other mental illness have genetic, environmental and psychosocial components – just like all other illnesses. And while you may be able to control some of those factors – you cannot control all of them. And even if you do control all the factors you can, perfectly, it doesn’t mean that you will or will not have a mental illness. Life is not fair and mental illness does not discriminate.
Saying “Your Mental Illness is Your Fault” is Unconscionable
Yes, it’s not just hurtful to tell someone that their mental illness is their fault; it’s pretty much unconscionable because you are kicking a person when they are down. Believe me, the person with the mental illness already feels bad enough about being sick without you adding the extra pressure that somehow they’ve brought it on themselves. And also believe this – every person with a mental illness has also gone through a point when they have blamed themselves and you heaping more scorn upon them just takes them back to a time of self-blame in their lives, and they don’t need to be there.
Saying, “Your mental illness is your fault,” is not just harmful to the person but also their health and possibly their lives because of how powerful their illness can be on their lives. You’re taking a bad situation and making it worse. You must be so proud of yourself.
Try Compassion for a Person with a Mental Illness
So instead of judging a person with a mental illness and suggesting that they are not doing everything in their power to get better (which most of us are) how about you try some compassion? Like the same compassion you would show a person with cancer? Everyone knows the horrors of that illness and the treatment for that illness and believe me, mental illness can be every bit as much of a horror show so how about saying, “That must be very difficult for you.” It’s not exactly the Gettysburg address, but it shows that you’re listening, not judging and acknowledging our realities. And that’s all we really want.
(PS: if you really want to help you could try, “Is there anything I can do to help?” We would really appreciate that too.)
About Natasha Tracy
Natasha Tracy is an award-winning writer, speaker and consultant from the Pacific Northwest. She has been living with bipolar disorder for 18 years and has written more than 1000 articles on the subject.