My best friend and I met in a psychiatric ward. We have been friends for nearly 7 years. We joke all of the time about being ‘crazy’, ‘insane’ or ‘mental’. However if someone I had never met or I didn’t know well said the same thing, I would take great offense. I feel there is privilege around being able to joke about Mental Illness, a privilege that only those who know the suffering around it can take part in.
Making jokes about mental illness is kind of an us and them atmosphere. If you don’t have personal experience with mental illness, then it does feel very much like you are laughing AT me instead of WITH me. A joke with a friend comes from a place of understanding and knowing just how shitty living with a mental illness is. While a joke from a stranger feels like it comes from a place of fear and judgement.
I have spent a lot of time in psychiatric wards. I have been around a lot of people who have a variety of mental illnesses. These people were also at different places in their wellness journey. One thing that they all had was a sense of humour about their ‘craziness’. There was minimal judgement, everyone was in there for some sort of break they’d had in their life. We shared stories and laughed at the stupid things we’d done.
A lot of people, myself included, use humour to fall back on when things are getting a little too real and to make a connection to someone. I have often felt uncomfortable with a Dr who didn’t make small talk and was all business. Joesph Burgo from After Psychotherapy states:
When a client says something funny and I laugh, I’m saying I like you and enjoy this work we’re doing together. If I make an ironic remark and my client finds it amusing, she’s telling me she likes me, too. As an aspect of the healing psychotherapy relationship, laughing along with a client often contains a feeling of mutual affection. Especially for people who suffer from basic or core shame resulting from failures of attachment early on, this affection can help to mitigate that damage and alleviate the most painful parts of shame.
The mentally ill are never portrayed nicely in the media or entertainment industry. They are often the ‘bad guy’ or seen as copping out by blaming their mental illness for something they did. This attitude helps to fuel the misunderstanding of people with a mental illness. While society is still being bombarded with images of what a mentally ill person looks and acts like, they will still continue to make light of the struggles these people go through.
I can handle jokes about mental illness up until a certain point. There are jokes that are made to help alleviate anxiety, and then there are jokes that are made to cause pain. I wouldn’t make a joke about having cancer because I don’t have it, so please, if you don’t have personal experience with mental illness don’t make jokes about it.
Linking up with Essentially Jess for IBOT