People Who Promote Mental Health Stigma Can Destroy Lives

ISABELLA CARAPELLA | HUFF POST

I do not want to write this article right now. Not only because I wish its predecessor were never published, but because I am tired. Mentally, physically, emotionally, exhausted. Today, I spent an hour digging into my psyche with my therapist, working through both my past and my present issues. I also had a hard conversation over the phone with a dear friend, who I am actively working towards resolving an altercation with. Additionally, I supported a friend facing the aftermath of sexual abuse, and did some advocacy work on her case. Heavy stuff, and all of this after working eight hours at my retail job. Yet, here I am, because I feel I have to be.

I label myself as a mental health enthusiast, but I am more than that; I am a mental health activist. For both myself, and for others. I would have trouble keeping that title if I did not sit down, right now, and write this article.

The pit in my stomach appeared this morning.

It materialized when I checked my email and saw that my Medium Daily Digest was an article titled “People With Personality Disorders Can Destroy Your Life.” I thought, this must be clickbait. I would have bet money that the title was just for the shock value, and the writing itself would ease my worries, if only just a bit. Yet, I still had a sick feeling in my stomach. It made me ill to think how many people saw that title in their emails, or had that article pop up on their homepage, and noted it as truth at first glance.

People have high expectations for authors on Medium, especially those who are distributed in specific topics; it would not be unreasonable to assume that if an article were promoted to such an extent, both its title and its content would contain valuable information. This title was anything but valuable, though, it was an incredibly damaging promotion of mental health stigma.

I had work early this morning, too early to stop and read it, so I figured I’d wait until my day was done, and then see what it was about. While the title left me feeling uneasy, I was still expecting some emotional relief when I sat down to read it. The article would have had to be very good in order to gain my forgiveness, though, after the irresponsible title left me so unsettled.

To my dismay, the article was just as damaging as its title.

I could physically feel my heart sink and my chest tighten as I made my way through the article.

Did he really just clump every personality disorder — Cluster A, Cluster B, and Cluster C — into the same category? Is he really going to use the word “mental illness” interchangeably with “personality disorder”? Wait, did he just use the word “crazy” in reference to a suffering human being?

I was not prepared for what I saw in that article.

Mentally healthy people have a genuine wish for peace and prosperity, they want things to be good. On the other hand, people with personality disorders may have that wish as well, but — because of their illness — have lost all connection to normal functioning. — Allen M. Vukelić

My jaw dropped to the floor. My heart ached. This article had over 1k claps. Images of friends, acquaintances, and public figures with personality disorders kept flying through my head. Pete Davidson, Borderline Personality Disorder; Jessica Kent, Antisocial Personality Disorder; the friends I know suffer, the friends I don’t know suffer.

The people reading the article.

The author pointed out that people with personality disorders are more common than we realize, yet he somehow forgot he was writing to an audience that included them.

Allen M. Vukelić was right about one thing: approximately 10 percent of the population suffers from a personality disorder. Personality disorders occur for different reasons, present on spectrums, and vary greatly; in other words, they are as diverse and unique as the people they affect. Even two people with the same disorder could be incomparable. An easy example to digest would be how two people can have Narcissistic Personality Disorder, but one can present vulnerable symptoms, and the other grandiose.

It is also dangerous to encourage labeling and diagnosing the people in our lives just because they have certain character traits.

“Difficult character” (Vukelić) does not indicate a personality disorder in every case. Frankly, even people who present every clinical symptom might still be difficult to diagnose in a professional setting. For example, C-PTSD is extremely similar to BPD, and not everyone with ASPD wants to hurt people. That is just a fraction of the complexity that goes into diagnosing a personality disorder, and to suggest that the people we know with “difficult character” likely have personality disorders is gut wrenching. To suggest there is something inherently wrong with having a personality disorder is also gut wrenching. I was tearing up by the end of the article, thinking of the relationships this “information” might ruin, the growth it may stunt, the shame it might cause.

Personality disorders may be hard to treat as stated, but the mental health field is expanding, and there is hope for recovery. It is important to keep in mind that someone who suffers from a personality disorder is still a person, and they deserve to be treated with dignity and respect. They are hurting inside, and they deserve to be loved and supported. Do not give up on them, as the author insinuates, for the sole reason that they may have a personality disorder. Gently nudge them toward treatment, and make them more aware of what they may not see themselves.

Remember that not everyone who abuses has a personality disorder, and not everyone who has a personality disorder abuses.

It is also inappropriate to suggest that people with personality disorders “do not believe they have a disorder” (Vukelić), they may be perfectly aware that they struggle to function in society, and they likely wish things were different. They may even be actively working towards a sense of normalcy and stability.

It is not your job to label anyone in your life as struggling from a disorder of any kind.

Look at how your perceptions of others may be clouded by your experiences, your education, or the things you read — perhaps, an article titled “People With Personality Disorders Can Destroy Your Life.”

At the end of the day, if you take nothing else away from this article, let it be empathy. Do not label the homeless person on the street as “crazy” (Vukelić), instead, remember that they faced unimaginable hardship that lead them there, and are now sleep deprived, hungry, and marginalized. Do not automatically label people with “difficult character” as having a personality disorder, recognize they may be going through hardships in their personal lives, struggling with their mental health, or perhaps there is nothing wrong at all except that they differ from you, and you struggle to get along.

Also, remember that if someone you know does struggle from a personality disorder, this is not something they are required to share with you. Like any other medical diagnosis, this is their struggle, to share on their own terms. It is not yours to claim. Additionally, perhaps if we can create a less stigmatized society, one where people with personality disorders can feel valued in, they won’t have to stay in the shadows. People with personality disorders as a whole do not ruin lives. Mental health stigma does, though. There is a reason the suicide rate for people with BPD is nearly ten percent, and perhaps that number could be lower if people felt comfortable seeking treatment in a society that would not judge them for it.

Where do we go from here? We love each other. We approach every human with empathy. We walk away from people who make us feel bad when it’s necessary. We don’t label the experiences of others. We listen. Above all, we focus on ourselves, and try to promote healing and acceptance in all we do.

We do not destroy lives. We save them.

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Robin Dakota

Robin Dakota

Mental health enthusiast living in New York City. I like writing about anything that challenges my perspective. BS Psychology & BA Humanities.