14/01/2015 13:05 GMT | Updated 16/03/2015 05:59 GMT

Je Ne Suis Pas Mental - The Difference Between Freedom of Speech and Stigma


With so much talk in the news recently about freedom of speech, it really got me thinking. If everyone should be entitled to free speech why do I get so wound up if someone calls me mental? Or bat sh*t crazy? Or a head case? And all the rest of it... I don't want to go too deep into the Charlie Hebdo incident and why people are now tweeting Je Ne Suis Pas Charlie, but it does make me think about the difference between freedom of speech and being offensive. So, why can't people call all those with a mental health disorder hurtful names? Why can't they take the mick?

It is 2015. A new year and a time in which racism, sexism and homophobia are all seen as big no-nos. In fact, I'm willing to bet that if I made a racial slur I would be kicked straight out of the Celebrity Big Brother house and be called all sorts of names on Twitter. Yet, if I were to call someone dangerous because they have schizophrenia or mental because they have borderline personality disorder, who would tell me off? I know that the big charities and mental health advocates would certainly have something to say about it, but most people would probably just continue on with their day. Isn't it my freedom of speech to be able to call these people what I want? Well, actually, it isn't. It is called stigma and it is becoming more and more worrying every day.

It is my freedom of speech to call someone a benefits scrounger

It is now commonplace to see someone getting fired from work for having a mental health disorder, or being called a benefits scrounger for claiming benefits for depression. I have experienced both of these types of stigma first hand. However, these stories will barely make page 18 in a newspaper. These stories will be brushed under the carpet because it is so commonplace. Plus, it is my freedom of speech to call someone a benefits scrounger if I want to, isn't it? What people fail to recognize is that it is a form of discrimination; just like when women couldn't vote, when being gay was a crime, and when ethnic minorities were seen as lesser human beings. It is discriminating against someone for something that is not their choice. People don't choose to be depressed, they don't choose to have a mental health disorder.

With so much research going on into mental health, it can be hard to work out why exactly 1 in 4 people will experience a disorder. One minute we're reading people get depressed because of circumstances in their life, then it is because of a chemical imbalance in the brain, now it might even be because people are allergic to modern life. What all of these 'reasons' have in common, however, is that it is not anybody's fault; and trust me, I have had to come to terms with this in my own slow recovery.

Where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and being plain offensive?

So, let's go back to what the difference is between freedom of speech and stigma. I have seen plenty of people commenting on articles over the last few days regarding both the Charlie Hebdo situation and this guy called Ken from Celebrity Big Brother. People commenting on the shootings at the magazine are saying that freedom of speech shouldn't be threatened. Good, excellent point. Now, people commenting on the racial slurs that Ken made are saying how dare he be so racist. Good, another excellent point. Do you see where I'm going with this? Where do we draw the line between freedom of speech and being plain offensive?

Stigma is offensive. Making a joke about someone because of their mental health disorder is offensive. Calling someone the 'N Word' is offensive. Picking on someone because they are gay is offensive. Calling a female a derogatory term is offensive. This is all stigma, in some form of another. Yet the only one that is really still deemed as 'OK' in 2015, is mental health stigma.

I've read countless articles in the last few weeks that have made passing comments about all types of mental health disorders. One said that those who supported Ched Evans were probably living under a bridge and battling out with their personality disorders. Another said that someone with schizophrenia is likely to come at you with an axe. I've tried to ask every one of the authors to change or modify their comments and I've been ignored. Freedom of speech.

Well, it is 2015 world and I want the terms people find offensive to change. Along with the racial slurs and the homophobia and the sexist comments, I want to say people taking a stand against mental health stigma. I want people to say "That's wholly offensive" when someone says something cruel about a mental health patient. I want people to stand up and say "We understand that mental health disorders are not a choice" when someone has to take time off work through being unwell. I want newspapers to be run horrified stories when someone loses their job because of a mental health disorder. Only then can people stop using 'freedom of speech' to defend the stigma faced by those with a mental health disorder. And only then will I truly feel like it is the 21st Century after all.