Americans know several things really well: professional sports, fast food and pride. This isn’t an all-inclusive list by any means, but the last one is really the only one that needs addressing right now. Pride is used to express both good and bad feelings. We can be proud of accomplishments, in other words, we find joy and pleasure in things we have done. We can be proud of family, or, find joy in the accomplishments of those we love. These are good uses of pride. Bad uses of pride would be when we try to put ourselves above others. When we are proud that we have accomplished something, because it means that someone else has failed, we are exhibiting bad pride. It is pride that causes us to form groups and separations between us and other people. You can’t turn on a major cable news network these days without seeing separation. Whether it is in politics, religion or nationality, we tend to separate ourselves over any little matter. One separation that carries with it a particularly heavy stigma is mental illness. In these cases it is always “us” and “them.”
Group labels are a result of stereotyping, which isn’t always bad. We all encounter so many people and situations everyday that we need shortcuts, such as stereotyping, in order to be able to keep up with the processing. Stereotyping becomes bad when we lock someone into a category and don’t give them a chance to show who they are. It is bad stereotyping that leads to the separation that is felt be those diagnosed with mental illness in our society. They are seen as throwaways and treated like a “them.” Think about your own experiences with meeting people. Has there ever been a time when as you got to know someone better and found out about a diagnosis they once received, you felt the way you approach them change? Perhaps you have felt that change from someone else after you opened up to them in what you thought was a growing relationship of trust? Whichever side of the issue you have found yourself on, can you relate to the “us” and “them” mentality?
There may be as many reasons for this mentality as there are people who participate in it. One reason might be that we are afraid of admitting that we are weak, or have the ability to be seen as weak. When we see behavior in someone that frightens us, or is hard to understand, we classify it as “sick” or “ill” and talk about the person with the behavior as “them.” Though it isn’t necessarily our intention to make those deemed to be mentally ill into throwaways, we do so in order to protect ourselves and what we hope for ourselves. Another reason for the labeling and resulting feelings of being a throwaway might be due to a lack of understanding. Fear and misunderstanding are closely related. Misunderstanding what mental illness is and how it affects people leads to labels and separation.
The solution to the problem of people diagnosed as mentally ill and treated as throwaways lies in the education of the people. The more that people realize we are all the same, the more we will be able to accept each other and not separate each other by labels. We are all the same; we are all people. Pride is at the base of the “throwaway” problem. We need to get over ourselves and appreciate the similarities and differences in all people.