Mental illness is not an excuse to be a horrible person. Sometimes, people say things when they’re angry. Sometimes they say things that are really mean and hurtful and can upset people. A lot of times, that can be due to a struggle with a mental illness. But repeating hurtful choices is just that – a choice. A nasty pattern of behaviour is not something that should be allowed simply because someone has a mental illness. Blaming bad behaviour on mental illness comes in many forms. A person will say something offensive, and others will come to their defence by mentioning their mental illness, as though that gives people a free pass to hurt others. Or someone will use mental illness to excuse their own behaviour, accepting hurtful choices as just part of their illness or using their illness to justify their poor treatment of others. The reality is this: Mental illness is not a free pass to be cruel, offensive, or to engage in toxic behaviour. If you have a mental illness, you cannot justify persistent cruelty as part of your disorder, and if you’re in a relationship with someone who’s treating you horribly, you don’t have to put up with it just because they’re ill. Of course, there are disorders that cause mood swings, anger and irritability – such as bipolar disorder. But it’s a personal choice how you react to these emotions. Do you get help the moment you do something you know is wrong? Or do you expect everyone else to simply accept the hurt you’re delivering? If you find yourself lashing out of people, that’s something you need to fix. It’s something you should seek help for. It is something you should acknowledge. You should not allow it to continue happening just because you think it’s part of the parcel of mental illness. As someone who lives with bipolar disorder myself, before I was medicated, I was one of these people. I wasn’t nasty, but I struggled with my anger and I was a very irritable person. I was quick to become argumentative and sometimes I would say things that were hurtful and that I didn’t necessarily mean. When this happened, I felt remorse. Once the mood passed, I acknowledged that I was wrong and apologised. (Picture: Phébe Lou Morson) I lashed out a lot at my partner. When I sat down and thought about it, I realised he never spoke to me the way I spoke to him. And it wasn’t fair, or at all acceptable. So I went to my doctor and I sought help. I realised that my actions were absolutely not okay, and I did something about it. It should be the same for anyone inflicting emotional or physical pain on others – once you realise what you’ve done, or someone’s alerted you to what you’ve done, it’s crucial to get help with changing that behaviour, not just accepting it as part of your illness. Mental illness is often likened to physical illness. We say that it should be treated the same, that if a person had a broken leg, you wouldn’t tell them to just ‘get over it’, therefore you shouldn’t treat mental illness that way. But the same can be said when it comes to the way we act. You might expect someone with a broken bone to be a little snappish for a while, but if they were continually rude, offensive, or hurtful, you wouldn’t allow them to do it simply because their bone is broken. We can’t be hypocrites. We can’t expect these two things to be treated the same, but then excuse unacceptable behaviours for those suffering mentally. Conflating mental illness with cruelty adds to the stigma of mental illness. There’s this misconception that mentally ill people can be a danger to others. It’s often depicted in movies and TV shows and even in books. MORE: MENTAL HEALTH My Label and Me: I never imagined I’d still be a self-harmer at 40 Rebecca Humphries: ‘I’m strong and confident, and gaslighting still happened to me’ The importance of recovery cafes for people experiencing addiction But statistically, people with mental illness are actually more vulnerable and less likely to be dangerous than anyone else. Excusing horrible behaviour for a mental disorder makes it seem as though being horrible is the norm for people with mental illness. And that’s not okay. Some people really struggle with their moods. But when it’s affecting others, it’s time to do something about it, not excuse it as just part of being ill.
If you have a lot of built up anger, speak to someone. A family member, a friend, or your doctor to talk about the things going on in your head. Alternatively, if you’re feeling angry, unleash your feelings by calling Samaritans on 116 123, they are there to listen to you. If you find yourself repeatedly irritated or angry, question what’s really going on. Is everyone else being irritating, or do you need additional support for your emotions? Before making hurtful comments, take a step back and think about the consequences. If you are unable to stop a reaction, take some time out afterwards and apologise to the person you hurt. Listen when friends and loved ones tell you they’ve been hurt. Don’t dismiss their feelings or deflect them by blaming your mental illness. Be open to change, and if you don’t like the person you’re being, know that you can get help to be better. A lot of the time bad behaviour is coming from a place of fear, distress, or hurt, which is entirely normal. But repeating this behaviour over and over is not okay. Take a step back and work on yourself so you know you won’t inflict hurt or pain on other people.