In today’s Infinity Talk, I want to discuss something that’s been bothering me to a point where I have to talk about it or I’ll explode. I’ll try to stay calm and write a comprehensible and rational post that reflect my thoughts, but don’t be surprised if this turns into a rant halfway through. Apologies in advance.
Having said that, let’s talk about victim-blaming. Particularly: blaming the victims of mental illness.
It’s been on my mind for a while now, but my thoughts and emotions didn’t float to the surface until I read some of the comments on Netflix’s Thirteen Reasons Why. For those of you who haven’t seen it, Thirteen Reasons Why is a popular Netflix show based on Jay Asher’s book. It deals with difficult topics such as sexual assault, bullying, depression, rape, and suicide in a rather no-nonsense and at times very graphic manner.
Before I get into it, let me make this clear: this post is not about whether Thirteen Reasons Why is a “good” or “bad” show. This post is about the negative response and attitudes toward mental illness. I’m simply using Thirteen Reasons Why as an example to prove my point.
So, what is victim-blaming? As you can probably guess, the victim is blamed for his or her physical and / or mental suffering.
e.g. Hannah Baker from Thirteen Reasons Why is blamed for committing suicide.
Here are just a few comments I’ve seen all over social media these past couple of days:
- was a whiny, self-entitled millennial girl
- was too sensitive
- had a “princess complex” thinking she could get everything she wanted
- didn’t even have it that bad. There are people with far more serious issues
- was selfish for committing suicide
- took things too seriously
- should’ve moved on (more accurately: she should “get over herself”)
- should’ve reached out to her parents
- should’ve gone for Clay instead of wanting the hot, popular guys
I can’t tell you how much these comments upset me. They are ignorant and hurtful and completely disrespectful to actual, real-life people who deal with mental illness on a day-to-day basis.
These comments prove that a stigma that still surrounds mental illness, a stigma Thirteen Reasons Why (ironically) wanted to raise awareness for.
What is stigma?
Stigma is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.”
From the point of view of the victim, there are several responses to being stigmatized:
- feeling ashamed
- blaming themselves
- social exclusion
- suffering from discrimination
“Displays of discrimination can become internalized, leading to the development of self-stigma: people with mental illness may begin to believe the negative thoughts expressed by others and, in turn, think of themselves as unable to recover, undeserving of care, dangerous, or responsible for their illnesses.”
The question is: why do we (aka “society”) blame the victim?
There are two explanations:
- a lack of knowledge: many people are ignorant when it comes to mental illness. They only know what they’ve seen in the media. Unfortunately, the media often reverts to stereotypes when featuring people with mental illness (e.g. they’re violent and dangerous, they’re not “normal”, their parents are to blame … ). This portrayal of mental illness keeps victims from speaking out and therefore keeps the stigma alive.
- we’re a culture of victim-blamers: “The core of victim-blaming is that we don’t want to feel out of control,” she says, since being victimized – or learning that someone else was victimized – threatens to shatter the illusion that we’re always in control of what happens to us; and it runs counter to a notion rooted deeply in our society. Fighting for our freedom, being independent, fighting against someone controlling us – we have a whole history of that.”
What can we do about it?
The only thing that will help eradicate the stigma is education. People need to be educated about mental illness and how their thoughts and behaviour are part of the problem. Campaigns to raise awareness and books, movies and tv shows with an accurate representation of mental illness can help achieve that goal.
To wrap up this post, I want to give one piece of advice: please stop and think before you act. Always be kind and respectful of other people’s feelings and experiences.
And please don’t hide behind the fact that Thirteen Reasons Why or any other show is “just a show”. It’s not. There are real people out there dealing with real issues that might be discouraged from getting the help they deserve and need.
Byrne, Peter. “Stigma of mental illness and ways of diminishing it.” Advances in Psychiatric Treatment. Jan 2000, 6 (1) 65-72.
CORRIGAN, Patrick W; Druss, BENJAMIN G.; Perlick, Deborah A. “The Impact of Mental Illness Stigma on Seeking and Participating in Mental Health Care.” Association for Psychological Science.
Schroeder, Michael O. “The Psychological Impact of Victim-Blaming – and How to Stop It”. Health.usnews.com