For my post today I had planned to discuss a couple examples of how I used to look down upon the mentally ill, and how I sometimes still do, despite everything I’ve been through. Then I got sidetracked from writing altogether as I had two sick little girls to take care of all day, and I was coming down with the same yucky bug they had. Now it’s dark outside, and thank God the girls’ cooped-up energy levels are winding down. Although I’m coughing & blowing my nose every two minutes, I can take a break to air my thoughts on the topic of stigma. (It makes me feel better to do so!)
I’ve been using the word “stigma” more frequently than ever, but if you asked me to define it, I would stumble a bit in giving you an accurate description. Dictionary.com states “stigma” as being “a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as on one’s reputation.” (That works for me!)
Earlier today I visited my personal Facebook page and noticed that the International Bipolar Foundation posted a link to an article titled “The Stigma of Mental Illness” by Callie Parrish in the Daily Cougar. (The Cougar is the official student-run publication at the University of Houston, and Ms. Parrish is an art and mathematics senior and their “Opinion” columnist.) I read Ms. Parrish”s article with interest and I agreed with her clear, compassionate point of view. Then I scanned the comment section below the article. There was only one comment there, and I was surprised to see it was written by a man who had offended me in 2010. The commentator was the so-called “retired mental health editor” Harold Maio.
I’ll back up. In 2010, I created the Santa Cruz County chapter of the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance (DBSA), a wonderful non-profit that helps those with mood disorders, and I formed a free women’s support group. I contacted all the local papers to promote this group, which was sorely needed in our community, and a nice piece was written up by the editor of the Press Banner titled, appropriately enough, “A New Day Dawning”.
I eventually figured out that Mr. Maio, being retired, had lots of time to scan the internet for any articles that had the word “stigma” in them, and then he would write ridiculous comments. He found the Press Banner piece about me and my group. His comment in response to the article that delineated my suffering with a mental illness was this:
“I do not pose “stigmas” I do not support people who pose “stigmas.” I do not repeat “stigmas” people pose. I do not support journalists who do.
Harold A. Maio, retired Mental Health Editor”
Now, obviously this man has some emotional problems, and my intuition tells me he may very well harbor his own mental illness. However, at the time the Press Banner printed my story, I felt quite vulnerable in “coming out” with my mental illness, and his non-supportive, bizarre comment totally rubbed me the wrong way. Several of my friends and Press Banner readers I did not know took one look at what Mr. Maio wrote and came to my defense with intelligent, encouraging comments.
Here’s the Press Banner article link and a cute shot of my little girls:
I like what a compassionate woman wrote today on the Facebook page of the International Bipolar Foundation, in response to Mr. Maio’s comments about stigma:
“He serves to bring home the author’s points. While (those types of comments) make me sad, they also make me determined to educate those who are so in the dark & greatly hinder the bipolar tribe from stepping into the light …where they deserve to be. We have to join together in the spirit of hope & harmony to change these harmful & hurtful mindsets.”
She’s 100% right.
I need to develop a thicker skin when it comes to this kind of situation, because spotting Mr. Maio’s asinine comment today triggered me. I let that trigger run all over me and wasted valuable time freaking out about it – time that would have been way better spent comforting my girls, or writing my feelings out here.
In the Cougar article link below, you can see for yourself what Harold wrote about stigma: http://thedailycougar.com/2014/01/16/the-stigma-of-mental-illness/
Mr. Maio’s Cougar remarks include: “The stigma of mental illness. No one who calls prejudice and discrimination “stigma” should be trusted. See rape/stigma if you have forgotten. Harold A. Maio, retired Mental Health Editor” and then “The purpose of the term “stigma” is to discriminate. See rape/stigma for how successful it was. Women stopped directing that one only late in the 20th century.”
Okaaaaay. Hate women much, Mr. Maio? I shouldn’t poke fun, I know, because his views are disturbing on several levels. It takes all kinds, I know, but I want to gravitate to the kind that is positive, helpful, and compassionate. The kind that will fight the stigma against mental illness. The kind that makes a difference for the greater good. I’m still optimistic that we mentally ill people will be treated with more dignity in the years to come, and all the Mr. Harold Maios of the world can’t dampen that spark of hope inside of me.