Don’t sacrifice privacy for reduced stigma

By Lizzie Thomas | Staff Writer

A while back, an addiction expert I was interviewing said something along these lines: “It’s great that there’s reduced stigma around mental health and people feel alright being public about it, but I want that for addiction, too. I don’t want people to feel isolated.”

But what happens when the public thinks they’re entitled to that information?

Over the past few months, I have seen two relatively public figures address questions about their sexuality. Both were straight and both brought up the fact that if a person is not publicly sharing that information, it’s invasive to ask about it. Both were annoyed that people were so curious, even though they had nothing to reveal.

Luke “Joinen” Majoinen is a YouTube personality made somewhat famous for his commentary videos on Reddit forums. His appeal is his nuanced and “wholesome” approach. In two separate videos, he addressed people asking if he was gay because the question was dominating the comments.

“I mean, straight out asking someone if they’re gay … It usually just isn’t something you should be doing anyway,” Majoinen said. “Because unless they’ve talked about it openly in the past, they might consider that question quite invasive, and I’m sure if someone wants to come out as gay, they will do that when they want to.”

Mental Health Awareness Week took place last week. One of the days at Baylor was devoted to “Fighting Stigma.” So much of social media is sympathetic to mental health struggles, and so many people have been open about their own, which is admirable. They are applauded for their bravery.

But what about when someone is trying to do what it takes to get better, but doesn’t want the whole world to know their mess?

Hannah Jane Parkinson wrote a piece for the Guardian: “‘It’s Nothing Like a Broken Leg’: Why I’m Done With the Mental Health Conversation.” In it, she points out that while there have been many campaigns and people expressing their stories regarding mental health, the focus is on depression and anxiety, not Schizophrenia or Bipolar disorder.

Parkinson said she’s thankful for her employers’ flexibility with the reality of her condition, and that they are not only familiar with “the Conversation,” but with what she needs and that her struggle might not be pretty. According to Parkinson, people turn away and get uncomfortable when they are exposed to the real conversation — and understandably so. It’s a scary and intimate thing to see that’s kind of mess. That’s why so many people still keep their condition under wraps.

While more awareness and sympathy previously stigmatized groups is always a good thing, that cannot be at the expense of respecting the members of their groups. There cannot be an expectation of disclosure – social acceptance is not an excuse to be nosy. The right to privacy and the privilege of social acceptance cannot be mutually exclusive.