Are we really listening to mentally ill folks?

When reading about mental health, one of the best things I have come to learn is that Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) was created by someone who has had their own intimate experience with severe mental illness. Dr. Marsha M. Linehan, American psychologist and author, has revealed in an interview that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia but also feels that she actually had Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD).

Dialectical Behaviour Therapy consists of four key components: mindfulness, effective implementation of interpersonal skills, distress tolerance, and emotional regulation. In case you didn’t know, the development of DBT was a really big deal in the psychology world. It was ground-breaking in its empathetic and support-oriented approach and became the first evidence-based treatment for BPD. Cool, right?

Why was DBT being developed? 

DBT was developed as a modified version of cognitive behaviour therapy. Dr. Linehan noticed that standard behaviour therapy wasn’t particularly helpful for patients who were highly suicidal. Her own experience with mental illness, as well as earnestly listening to patients helped her and her team develop DBT.

Today it is used for a variety of issues such as substance use disorders, suicide attempts, PTSD, self-harm, depression, anxiety, and eating disorders. While DBT was developed in the 1980s, Dr. Linehan only recently revealed her struggles with mental illness in 2011. This is likely due to how stigmatized mental illness is.

With how we communicate and spread information today, we see that mental health is being discussed more and more. We see people with mental health issues voicing their opinions and sharing their experiences on various platforms.

But are they being listened to?

People tend to ignore the mentally ill and dismiss anything they have to say – and this goes beyond their input on mental health issues too. A person’s mental health status shouldn’t determine whether or not we take them seriously. It shouldn’t determine whether or not we value their insight on things.

Who are we listening to?

We really need to be thinking about whether or not we’re really listening to mentally ill folks. Not just picking and choosing what we find palatable, and being wary of biases or privileges we may have. For example, we may favour “good” mentally ill people as opposed to those who are seen as “difficult” or “lower-functioning”.

We may also favour those who are college-educated vs. those who are not. Those who hold a higher position of power. Those who we find “inspirational”, “successful” or “exceptional”. Those who are relatable and more closely adhere to social norms.

If we really want to dismantle mental health stigma, we must ask ourselves: are we really listening or do we stop when it gets too uncomfortable?

Recommended readings: 

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