What does a ‘mental patient’ look like?

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I don’t always look pretty. In fact I don’t often look pretty. It takes an afternoon in the chair of a lovely lady who does make-up for me to approach attractiveness.

Quite often, I look, frankly - a bit rough. I’m tired. Due to my raging hormonal imbalances I have the skin of a 13 year old and my hair is wiry, fine and scraggy.

But I do my best to look at least half presentable, given the limited tools I have to work with, and I leave the house every morning in clean clothes with my hair brushed, my make-up on and quite often a glimmer of a smile on my face even when I’m feeling a bit tired, sore and sorry for myself.

I don’t wear a white boiler suit. It isn’t smeared in blood.

My face is not an eerie white (thanks to a nice tinted foundation) and I am not dripping in blood. I don’t tend to carry a meat cleaver around either - which also happens to be dripping in blood. I don’t (generally) look scary.

But yet and all, I am a “mental patient”. I have experienced certain mental health difficulties over the course of the last 11 years. I have an illness which, most of the time, I manage well. It is an illness which, on occasion, has brought me to very dark places.

I’m lucky in that I don’t see my condition as a weakness. In fact I’m well aware of the strength I have needed to make it through certain patches of the last 11 years.

I don’t, generally, feel the vulnerability that others feel. I don’t feel threatened by the mental illness label. I may not like it, but I have accepted it as part of my make up.

And I thought we were in a world where we were moving towards a better understanding of mental illness.

But, and here I refer back to the blood soaked boiler suit, when a major retailer released a Hallowe’en costume entitled “mental patient” depicting something scary and frightening I have to wonder if we have come any way at all.

Now don’t get me wrong. I don’t think that retailer was purposely out to belittle issues surrounding mental health. I think it was perhaps just poorly thought out or not thought out at all.

The very vast majority of mental patients have never hurt or scared anyone. The vast majority of them look just like me and you. Chances are you know more than one person who has suffered some difficulties in their life.

Chances are there are many more people you know who have battled depression- but who look, for all intents and purposes, “normal”.

But “normal” doesn’t make for a good Hallowe’en costume, does it?