Whenever some hugely incomprehensible tragedy happens where a bunch of people are killed by, say, a single gunman who is young, white and male, we react by trying to make sense of things and by straining to figure out how to prevent history from repeating itself. The issue of mental illness and its probable role inevitably crops up, and we debate whether or not the gunman was “crazy” or “normal” as if those two are entirely separate possibilities.
Here’ s the thing: mental illness is normal. Actually, it’s totally banal, as is this entire blog post. It’s your drunk uncle, your perpetually weeping grandmother, the cataclysmic highs-then-lows of your best friend’s mom. What it isn’t, by default, is some abstract “crazy person” caricature who grimaces through the world with the subtlety of a sonic boom.
You don’t “probably” know someone who struggles to escape the grip of mental illness; unless you were hatched from an egg and are reading this from a secluded cave that just happens to have wi-fi, you absolutely 100% do. Real talk: you know several. 20 percent of all Canadians will personally grapple with some form of mental illness in their lifetime. For those of you even worse at math than I am, that’s one out of every five people. In the U.S., that rate is even higher— 26.2 percent is the estimate. That’s higher than the number of people in the U.S., for example, with blue eyes .
I just spouted off some totally common knowledge that we, as a group, manage so frequently to ignore. So, let’s do each other all a favor and stop talking about mental illness in terms of “some crazy person.” We know far too much about its ubiquity to perpetuate stigma. Instead, let’s acknowledge that it’s something many of us have to deal with, that it doesn’t make us bad or weak, and that it’s something that deserves treatment—and, that most unpopular word, compassion—in order to make people more functional and humane members of society. And then, once we make its care more accessible (LOTS of work needed on that front), let’s not chastise those who make the incredibly courageous and responsible decision to take advantage of it.