This was something I was unaware of: Mad Pride 2009 in Toronto. Check out http://www.madpridetoronto.blogspot.com/ for more information. (poster image from www.friendlyspike.ca/MadPride.html)
Im not surprised I had never heard about this. Mental illness is 'scary' and definitely taboo, people dont like to talk about it. I was happy to see that there are events like this that are reclaiming the words generally used to dismiss people who suffer from these types of illnesses. Mental illness is not the ONLY condition in which the patient is avoided or blamed for their condition, HIV/AIDS is a good example of another discriminated against diagnoses. Other medical conditions are readily accepted and received as deserving empathy and funding. It is hard to imagine a patient in the cancer ward being blamed for their illness as this ad demonstrates:
image from: cprf.ca/media/antiStigmaCampaign.html
Here is another great example:
Can you imagine if this was what you heard from co-workers, friends or strangers on the street as they discussed people with cancer or heart disease? But mental illness has never been, and I would say is still not, understood. Who hasnt heard people talking behind the backs of their friends/family/coworkers because they have a mental illness. I once heard someone saying that they thought people go to therapy when they have enough money to pay someone to listen to them complain. When I tell people about my diagnose(s) they generally will try to pretend they understand when they really dont; will give me the same response as to when I tell them I am a feminist (funnily enough!): get very uncomfortable and try to change the subject (another infuriating response to me discussing my feminist beliefs is the response "really, wanna hear a joke?" after which a misogynistic joke is told) Though it is really nice that sometimes the person will respond, "really? Me too!".
Does anyone remember this TV commercial (i couldnt find it) where a man is holding a baby and whispering in its ear, then the words come up, "This man has a mental illness" on a black screen. The shot goes back the man and the baby as he continues to hold and whisper him/her. Then the words, "What is really sick is how your opinion of him just changed" appears.
I remember seeing this ad when I was in high school before my diagnoses and found it very powerful with its message.
But events like Mad Pride and commercials and ads like those above continue to be rare and not nearly as pervasive as the stigmatizing effects of misunderstanding mental illness.