Over the last few years I have observed people using mental illness and psychiatric facilities as the object of a joke and the inspiration for a fun activity to raise money. The idea of using a “lunatic asylum” for a graduation fundraiser in Castlegar has been fully supported by a number of parents and the school while all along being the subject of hilarity.
For the last two years and possibly longer, people followed through with this fundraiser. Recently, I noted Facebook posts making “lighthearted fun” of friends who are supposedly in a psychiatric facility. Separately, I have also witnessed certain healthcare professionals enjoying a laugh over remarks regarding psychiatric situations.
For anyone who has ever had any experience with a psychiatric institution, directly or indirectly, I can assure you that it is anything but funny. It is a painful experience for the patients and their families.
Why is it that some people feel that it is okay to poke fun at psychiatric facilities and the people in them? One doesn’t see it happening to people who have cancer or other serious illnesses. And like other serious illnesses, mental illness often leads to death — through suicide or self-medication — and it is absolutely heartbreaking for families to go through.
Mental illness touches us all. It is not a black and white state of mind but instead a spectrum. We all know someone on the spectrum — whether it is someone who has had the blues for an extended period of time, or someone who experiences fear and anxiety for a variety of reasons: being in social situations, leaving the house, irrational worries, someone experiencing PTSD after a traumatic event, OCD, bipolar illness, schizophrenia, etc. The list goes on and on.
Making fun of people with a psychiatric illness and the facilities that exist to support them by holding a Halloween fundraiser and dressing up as “crazy” people and by poking fun in other ways contributes to the stigma and keeps mental illness in the closet. What’s the point of being out in the open on the subject if people are afraid to speak up out of fear of being the butt of a joke?
Five years ago, I lost my daughter to mental illness. I’m not laughing.