Today’s blog entry is a little different. Although the topic has quite a bit of overlap with bankruptcy, it is not a bankruptcy article per se, but instead speaks to a much broader issue.
I can’t begin to tell you how many times one of my bankruptcy clients has admitted to me that they put off filing for bankruptcy for years because of intense pressure to avoid bankruptcy – usually from family or friends. It’s safe to assume that for every person who finally has the courage to declare bankruptcy, there are undoubtedly many more people who refuse to get the assistance that they need out of a misplaced sense of pride.
There are many different ways in which societal norms can have detrimental effects on individuals, because they are discouraged from getting help because of the stigma attached to it. Of course, this isn’t a new revelation to me, or (I imagine) anyone else reading this article.
Recently, I’ve had the privilege to begin volunteering with a youth suicide prevention organization. My involvement with this group has opened my eyes to just how broad and deep some of these social stigmas go – and how many of them we take for granted without thinking of them, without questioning their value, and without challenging their validity.
It is possible to cause someone great psychological harm without intending to do so, and even without overtly insulting remarks. For instance, many educators and parents discourage the use of the word “retard”, even when used in jest. LGBT youth can feel marginalized by phrases like “that’s so gay” or even assumptions that they should be dating someone of the opposite gender. Many people in need of counseling for mental health are discouraged from doing so because of the connotation that people who visit psychiatrists are “crazy”. And of course, people are steered away from bankruptcy based on the idea that “if you incur a debt, you’re responsible for paying it”.
Of course, I don’t intend to suggest that people should incur debt without any intention of paying it back. However, most people who are insolvent are that way due to mistakes or even events that are out of their control. Isn’t the state of insolvency punishment enough? Should people really be forced into poverty for the rest of their life to repay debts that they’ll never get caught up on?
What right does anyone have to sit in judgment of someone else? To assume that just because they have enough money to pay their bills, that everyone else must have enough money to pay their bills? To assume that just because they’re enjoying a happy and healthy point in their life, that people with problems shouldn’t seek out a counselor?
Most people cannot fully appreciate just how much power certain words, phrases, and assumptions can have on other people. Even the most innocuous and benign words can have a major impact.
We live in a society that treats mental illness as somehow less important than physical illness or injury. We teach kids a silly rhyme about “sticks and stones”. But these words and presumptions can hurt and do serious harm. They marginalize. They stigmatize. And they invalidate.
People who discourage some of the things I’ve mentioned are often called overly-sensitive or zealously politcally-correct. I admit, I used to think that, too.
But I’ve seen just how detrimental these stigmas can be. So today, I write this post to implore people to be less judgmental, to be more conscientious about the words you use and the assumptions you make.
If you’re depressed – there is no shame in consulting a psychiatrist. If you’re gay, there are places to find love and support. If you’re struggling with debt, talk to a bankruptcy attorney. Don’t let the opinions of narrow-minded people deter you from getting help.
There are plenty of resources out there, no matter what you may be dealing with. But you must take the first step, and liberate yourself from these social stigmas.