On Mental Illness: NIMBY and Other Bigotry

By Jack Bragen
Tuesday July 26, 2011 - 01:08:00 PM

NIMBY, in case you’ve been living under a rock, stands for “Not In My Back Yard,” and is a reflection of people’s unacknowledged prejudice toward a group of people who are fine with you as long as they reside somewhere else. NIMBY-ism is a widespread phenomenon. For example; in a small group of aspiring authors (who were mostly obnoxious, as are most aspiring authors) I heard a conversation of how someone didn’t want their neighborhood ruined by “the low income housing” being built. (At the time, I didn’t mention that I happened to be a “low income” person and was in their writing group.) 

The attitude described as NIMBY, then, can be equated to the disdain of any group of people who someone does not want living nearby. The types of bigotry that people get away with, in our time, without being labeled as prejudiced persons, seem to be various forms of class-ism. Prejudice against persons with mental illness tends to show up in many of the same places as this class-ism. People get away with this, while they would no longer get away with racism. Overt racism has been established as a crudity; class-ism and the dislike of persons with mental illness have not. 

The substantiation for people disliking the presence of persons with mental illness is largely a collection of falsehoods. Persons with mental illness are stereotyped as nuisances, drunkards, criminals, people talking nonsense while walking in front of cars, or worse. In fact, most persons with mental illness who are in treatment are able to obey the accepted rules of common decency. Perhaps there is someone in your distant, if not immediate family who has dealt with a bout of depression or schizophrenia. You would probably hesitate to categorize that person as a public nuisance or criminal. 

If you have read Chaucer in your high school English class, one of the stories in the book alludes to the same attitude of disdain supported by falsehoods, in medieval times, but directed at Jews. In the 1950’s and before, the lies and the prejudice were directed at African American people and anyone who was not white Anglo-Saxon. 

The term NIMBY, when it is applied to persons with mental illness, is a very emotional subject. People hate and fear homeless people, for example, and are passionate about keeping them out of their area. People hate and fear persons with mental illness. This is a symptom of people being uninformed. People who have mistakenly chosen the path of hate also attribute un-cleanliness to whatever group they are bullying. 

It is not fair that mentally ill people are perceived and treated as a lesser form of human. To say you do not want housing for mentally ill people in your neighborhood is a rejection of perfectly good human beings who have an illness. People would think it absurd to reject a cancer treatment center in the neighborhood. People go on walks and other events to raise money for cancer research. Doing this has been established as a “good thing.” Mental illnesses don’t usually get the same status in society. However, we are dealing with just another form of illness; mental illnesses are physical diseases. Mental illness probably causes as much suffering as cancer. 

Persons with mental illness are human beings with feelings just as any other set of persons; and we have been artificially put into a category. We have the same aspirations, and in fact the same inalienable rights as do human beings in general. Not wanting us in “your” neighborhood reflects a sickness of the mind called prejudice.