I remember taking a bus to London Bridge when, after a few stops, a woman got on who seemed to move with a subtle but twitchy disregard for her surroundings. She found herself a seat among the Saturday shoppers and divided her time between looking out the window and responding to invisible companions, occasionally shouting at her unseen persecutors.
By East Street, the bus was empty.
You’ve probably encountered fellow travellers who are strikingly out of the ordinary, sometimes quite distressed, scattered among the urban landscape where they seem to have a social forcefield around them that makes crowds part in their presence.
If you’ve ever worked in a hospital or support service for people with psychological or neurological difficulties, you’ve probably met lots of people who are markedly out of step with the mundane rules of social engagement.
They seem to talk too loud, or too fast, or too much. They can be full of fantastical things or fantasies. They may be afraid or angry, difficult or disengaged or intent on rewind-replay behaviours. Their dress can be notable for its eccentricity or decay.
So why don’t we see people like these in anti-stigma campaigns?
Don’t get me wrong, I’m a massive fan of the great work anti-stigma campaigns do. Everybody is susceptible to mental health problems and the reason these campaigns are necessary is that they often go unrecognised by other people and instead of help, too often people receive misunderstanding and ignorance.
But there’s more to mental health than normality.
That woman on the bus shouting at her voices, she deserves respect too. That guy who posts those leaflets about Masons and thought-stealing all over town, deserves your time. The guy that speaks in a clumsy monotone voice and doesn’t look you in the eye, is also worthy of compassion.
Disability charities don’t base their campaigns solely on ‘nice people in wheelchairs’. They’re happy to show people who represent the full range of appearance and presentation. So why not mental health?
Step up mental health organisations, you’ve got nothing to lose except your conformity.