Shouldn't we be aware all the time?
Why just during an awareness "month"?
I’ve participated in plenty of organized awareness activities for different groups, and my heart truly is there, but honestly I just don’t get them. For instance, May is mental health month or October, get your mammogram because it’s titties month. How about Tourette awareness month from mid May to mid June? I lovingly chuckle at that one because I live in a home with Tourette’s and I get it. These are frustrating for me it feels limiting; or maybe it’s the commercialism, or maybe I just don’t get it because in my mind I’m thinking, “Shouldn’t we be aware all the time?”. Also, e.v.e.r.y.o.n.e. has a cause to bring awareness to these days. There are so, so, so many of them. It doesn’t lessen the importance, they are all important. So, what are they trying to accomplish?
Let’ start with what www.mentalhealthamerica.net defines as the purpose of mental health month:
- Fight stigma
- Provide support
- Educate the public and
- Advocate for equal care
Couldn’t those bullet points apply to every single activist group out there?
Then it hits me, this is all rather selfish of me. I have a 41 year history of events coinciding with mental illness. I’ve practiced fighting stigma, I’ve practiced providing support, and I’ve practiced educating my friends and have been directly involved with mentally ill patients getting access to appropriate care. If I haven’t been able to practice those appropriately, I’ve learned from them. I don’t want to sound like a crusader, rather it’s more that my exposure has created an open mind and I assume everyone thinks that way. As a human race, as cultural societies, we are still so young and continue to make humanitarian advancements.
Take stigmas for example. Racial equality in the U.S. really hasn’t been around for very long. Still, it’s very different than it was in the 1950s. Do we have more work to do? Yes indeed. How about gender equality? We’ve come a long way since the early 1900s, but do we still have work to do? The answer is yes; if you were going for something different then stop…the answer is yes. We could go on and on about equal vs. unequal groups, but if you look at the underlying issues of these you will find that stigma is a common thread. It’s one brick in the wall though. Another may be ignorance, another not being compassionate, and yet another, intolerance. On and on.
What about providing support and educating the public? Recently I was in a lecture about how the Seattle Police Department responds to domestic violence calls. One participant asked,“What good are public service announcements on T.V. about domestic violence which tell the abusers what they are doing is bad and they should stop? I mean, they aren’t going to look at that and say ‘Oh, I guess I should stop beating my loved one now’. And it doesn’t apply to me but I still have to sit there and watch this commercial when I know it’s not going to have any effect on the actual abuser. So who is this benefitting? What’s the point?” I related to what he said. Then I started thinking about the domestic violence PSAs that have been very prominent on the Alaskan T.V. channels recently (Real Alaskan’s Choose Respect). I really, really appreciated those. I knew it wasn’t going to solve an epidemic in Alaska which has ranked it as the #1 domestic violence state in the U.S., but like the SPD police officer pointed out, those PSAs let the abusers know that we are openly talking about it now. The problem is not staying behind closed doors, it’s out in the open now. Furthermore, there are support groups, there are agency assists for both the abuser and the victims, and we are making progress forward. I suppose this is one example of how campaigns strive to raise awareness.
These awareness campaigns, of which I’m both cynical and hypocritical as I complain while I participate), admittedly mean something to me. If for nothing else, it sheds ignorance and raises awareness. Who in roller derby had a pre-conceived notion about the game and its participants that changed once they started participating themselves? Mmhmm. Was it the sport that changed? Did the players, refs, NSOs, and volunteers change? Nope. They remained the same. Our education about them changed and we became less ignorant. We essentialy went through an awareness-campaign-process when we started donning our skates and learning the rules. We’ve come to admire it; we want to eat, sleep, and breathe derby. We realize there is a place for everyone in derby, and don’t we want to sign them all up for this epically awesome adventure with us? Now, apply that thought process to any of your stigmas of us vs. them, to your ignorance of an issue that breeds fear, or to keeping silent during a seemingly innocent slam against something you didn’t understand before. When we elevate our understanding about a mentally ill person for instance, they don’t suddenly change, we do. We don’t try to conform them to us and make their issues invisible, we acknowledge and go on with our lives with more inclusiveness.
If you have also participated in roller derby you can relate to Bonnie D. Stroir:
“Most seem to find roller derby in transitional periods…. We ruin our bodies to save our souls, and for some reason that makes perfect sense.”
And you still feel above that person struggling with mental illness? Bitches please! Start at home first, then take it to the streets (or track). I only ask that you do it all year, not just in May. <3