Tuesday, June 18, 2013

What Does Mental Illness Look Like?

Russel Brand was once quoted as saying,"My personalty just doesn't work without fame. Without fame, this haircut looks like mental illness."

Now, that probably should have been insulting to me , but instead it made me chuckle. In his defense he has struggled reportedly with bulimia, self injuring, and drug addiction. He is now sober and clean.

What it did make me ponder is what do people think when they hear the words Mental Illness? What images go through their minds? What do they think we look like?

Maybe they think of us as scary or creepy. Maybe images of dirty homeless  people with sour expressions play through their minds. Although, there are a lot of homeless that have mental illness not all mentally ill people are homeless. Most of us appear to be perfectly normal and you would have no idea that we have mental illness issues if we have not told you.

I am not scary looking, well let me correct that. I am not scary looking after I have had my first cup of coffee and have brushed my teeth and combed out my fiery red medusa-esque hair. After I have been groomed I look just like everyone else. I am not dirty or disheveled. I am as normal looking as one can get. In fact, almost all of the mentally ill individuals I have come across look perfectly normal.

What does it mean to look mentally ill?

I have had some serious reservations about what people think mental illness looks like. We have been bombarded with negative images of scary looking people. Angry people with mean sneers. Vintage photographs of people in asylums mumbling to them selves or banging their heads on the walls. I am not saying that this never happens but I am saying that when properly treated, people are less likely to mumble and bang their heads. It is all about proper treatment. The reason these old images are they way they are is when they were taken the people were not receiving proper care or even decent care that you would provide for any human being. I think that should go a long way to understand that mental illness is not something that can be picked out just by looking at someone. Most of us would never seem to have mental illness issues by the naked eye.

I have had mental illness since childhood and I have never met someone who told me that they knew I was sick just by looking at me. In fact, most people thought that I was somehow going to be snob. Then they tell me they were pleasantly surprised when they realized I wasn't snobbish at all. I have no idea why they think I would be a snob but I have been working on not appearing that way. I don't want people to find me unapproachable because they feel I am going to judge them. I never judge others. I have made mistakes and screwed up things as well, I have no soap box to stand on or high horse to ride off on. I am just like everyone else in that manner.

Now, growing up in the eighties I have made some questionable fashion choices. Brightly colored leg warmers, corduroy pants, and sideways pony tails were all the rage and I participated. Raccoon eyes make up and colorful shoestrings. I admit it. I was guilty of crimes of fashion but then again we all dressed like that including shoulder pads to make us look more like football players rather than normal girls/women. It happened. I am so glad that there are not many pictures of me floating around wearing such horrid attire. Some might think that these outfits were what mental illness looks like but if that were true we would all be guilty of being mentally ill.

Then I wore some of the nineties fashion. I wore the New Kids On The Block merchandise.....headdesk....headdesk...headdesk. I apologize to anyone that saw me wearing these items. Ugh. I am thankful that my mother refused for me to get the Lisa Stansfield hairstyle that I thought would look so great on me. You know, the one where it was buzz cut but there were little sloops of hair that were gelled and stuck to her face.....Thank you mom. Thank you.  We can not forget the evolution of parachute pants. I never got to wear these but I did have a "cool" science teacher that did. He had neon ones, multicolored ones, shiny ones. I often imagined him having a whole closet full of nothing but M.C. Hammer pants. It's kinda disturbing to look back at that whole fashion design back then. It is possible that this would be the look of mental illness? It may seem that we might have all been crazy to like this ugly, with a capital U, look but in reality fashion usually makes no sense.

So despite what outfits or haircuts that we may have, in no way does that represent the actuality of mental illness. It could be that we just really have bad taste. It could be that we are following the trends of fashion. Or it could be that we just really like balloon pants and shoulder pads. You can not, I repeat can not look at someone and know for sure if they are suffering from mental illness. It is not something that we wear on our clothes like "crazy badges" or "mental illness belt buckles". One in four people suffer from mental illness. Look around, how many of them seem nuts? How many of them can you just tell by looking at them that they are suffering?  We need to stop this ridiculous notion that the mentally ill are all dirty and scary. We need to stop feeding the fears of the general population that those that suffer from mental illness are creepy.
You know what's creepy? Taking a bath and relaxing with your eyes closed, hearing a noise and turning to look and seeing three of your cats sitting side by side a foot away from you staring you down. That's creepy. I would much rather sit beside someone with bipolar or depression than to know if my cats are secretly planning ways to off me. I have said this before but I am going to reiterate, mentally ill people are more likely to be a victim of violence rather than commit a violent act. Mentally ill people are not anything to be afraid of. If anything we might need to be more afraid of fashion fads that scar us for life or worse yet, plotting cats that stare at you in the bath.

Neurotic Nelly


  1. This is a great topic.
    I actually often get that thing where people think I'm terribly unapproachable as well [I recently explained one of the situations in which this happens and why on my blog], but it's not always obvious what it is they think they are perceiving when i give this impression.

    I actually feel like I'm bright and warm and kind and inclusive of people. But... that's not the *initial* impression I often give.

    I also run into the whole thing where people literally do not believe that I am batshit. I will tell them I have bipolar and a serious case of OCD, and they look at me as if I just asked "Do you want to buy a bridge?"

    Then they feel they must explain their disbelief: I don't "look" crazy, I don't "act" crazy, they know crazy people- I can't possibly be crazy, "crazy is a subjective assessment"... on and on.

    No, I don't look crazy because i struggle to give that impression. If I actually "looked crazy" my bet is that half of these people trying to convince me that "everyone's a little crazy" would be unlikely to give me the time of day.

    "mentally ill people are more likely to be a victim of violence rather than commit a violent act."

  2. I have also been told I don't look mentally ill. Really? And what does that look like exactly? It's silly to hold on to the false beliefs that all of us are walking around foaming at the mouth wearing dirty rags and talking to "the voices" in our heads. Mental illness is a term that covers every mental disorder. That , in turn, means we all have different symptoms. Many mentally ill people look like everyone else. It's not as if we have it tattooed on our foreheads or something. Ugh. Thank you so much Josie! :)