The Semicolon Project is in action all around the world… But is this a good thing or not?
“Project Semicolon is a global non-profit movement dedicated to presenting hope and love for those who are struggling with mental illness, suicide, addiction and self-injury. Project Semicolon exists to encourage, love and inspire… Stay strong; love endlessly; change lives.” – Project Semicolon’s founder and president, Amy Bleuel. [;]
After clicking on the ‘About’ page and selecting the first option, this is what I read. Once I’d actually ended up reading the story of Amy and how this movement came to be, I was both shocked and in awe that one person could contain so much compassion after every challenge they’d faced.
Of course, there are probably hundreds if not thousands of non-profit organisations that are in support of similar causes, and I applaud them. However, what stood out to me about this project is the insightful metaphor that is linked to their logo: the semicolon [;].
“A semicolon represents a sentence the author could’ve ended, but chose not to. The author is you and the sentence is your life.” – Project Semicolon.
And that was how this single piece of grammar has become a worldwide symbol of courage and continuation for individuals much like Amy Bleuel. Many who choose to wear, express or tattoo the semicolon are using this symbol to reduce the stigma associated primarily with mental illnesses.
I think it takes a certain level of bravery to face your difficulties. Celebrating the success of doing so is something that should under no circumstance be criticised lightly.
This leads me to my next point…
A lot of comments I’ve read online about this movement have deeply contrasted this ideal; to the point where I’ve found some of them quite insulting:
“Doesn’t this mean you want sympathy?”
“This doesn’t reduce the stigma, it just singles you out.”
“They’re doing it for attention.”
I have spoken to my cousin about this. She’s about my age. I like to think that we’re quite close, so naturally I got straight to the point and asked her something like, “What gives people the right to say this?” Her response was simple and also to the point: people often talk in ignorance of the things that they don’t understand.
It isn’t a lie. I’ve generally found the following to be true: the more disconnected an individual is from something – be it a race, religion or anything else of the sort, the less they seem to understand it. The less they seem to want to understand it. After all, if you’ve never had a mental health problem or you’ve never known anyone who has, then why should you educate yourself on the topic?
This poses many problems. If you have no in-depth knowledge of mental health illnesses then you’re less likely to know the different forms they can take; what they encompass, and how deeply they can affect individuals. You’re also more likely to rely on stereotypes and misrepresentations of mental health disorders.
Here are just some of the stereotypes that a lot of people hold towards those who suffer from mental health disorders:
“Mental health disorders can’t be cured”
“People with these disorders are a danger to others”
“If you hear voices you’re schizophrenic”
“People with depression are sad all the time”
“People with depression are suicidal”
“Social anxiety and shyness are the same thing”
“Mental health disorders aren’t biological”
“People who self-harm are depressed”
“People who self-harm do so for attention”
Have any of you ever thought one or more of these myths to be true?
If you don’t know anything about these disorders, then it’s likely that you won’t fully be able to understand two things:
- how important it is for those who suffer from them to feel able to speak out
- how important it is for these individuals to speak out without judgement
This is how the stigma of mental illness is born and reinforced. To raise further awareness, I feel I should explain how the three comments I mentioned earlier are inaccurate:
- “Doesn’t this mean you want sympathy?” No, actually. I believe that sometimes people may do things like cutting for people to see. This doesn’t mean they are looking for sympathy; it could mean that they have had enough and want someone to recognise their pain and they don’t care how that’s done. Or, if they are exposing their wounds to the public and are looking for sympathy, then there is obviously an ongoing emotional and psychological problem present. No one who is mentally healthy would display this kind of behaviour, we all know this. So why judge them? Perhaps it is better to try and encourage this individual to get help.*
In linking this to the semicolon project, I think that expressing the semicolon is a way to try and break down the stigma; to try to encourage a kind of ‘safety in numbers’ for those who suffer without telling anyone – it lets them know that they’re not alone. The same point made about using self-harm to get sympathy could also be said for some who may choose to “abuse” the use of the semicolon. These people shouldn’t be judged but helped, and additional sweeping statements shouldn’t be made about the rest of us who support this project.
- “This doesn’t reduce the stigma, it just singles you out.” The scepticism linked to this is what I don’t like in particular. Yes, wearing or sharing the semicolon singles you out – as someone who isn’t afraid to say they support the cause it represents. It may even single you out to the rest of the population as someone they can in fact identify with – someone who has also struggled against with these issues.
I think that people who judge others for taking a stand and are only able to see the negative in what it does without seeing the benefits, aren’t worth anyone’s time. That kind of thought process doesn’t help anyone. In fact, it’s thought processes like this that can help to keep up the negative label. If you’re this person then I suggest trying to find a helpful way to word your views against the cause (or even rethink them) rather than openly criticising in this way.
- “They’re doing it for attention.” This one gets me every time. Please believe me when I say you’d be very surprised to learn who, in your circle of friends, or even just the people you know, actually has a mental disorder(s). So many people try their hardest to cover up what they’re going through for fear of judgement and it really upsets me when people make over-generalizations like this one.
Some people are more open about their issues, but that’s just who they are. Again, some may not know boundaries on who to talk to, but this could all be linked to their cognitive and behavioural functioning. It doesn’t mean they should be judged. In regards to the semicolon project, I think it’s important for people to realise that standing up for what you believe in isn’t always a negative thing. These people who support the cause may be doing so for all kinds of reasons.
I hope that’s clarified things a little bit. The semicolon project is a movement that I will always love and support.
To those of you who have actually managed to read through this essay, I thank you. As you can tell, this is a subject that I am passionate about, and I await the day the stigma for mental health has disappeared. Below I’ve put some links which explain some of the mental health disorders I’ve referred to in more detail – they also contain more myth busters. If anyone is desperately feeling like they need to reach out and speak to someone then the Samaritans help website is below (Use it. It’s there for a reason).
Finally, feeling curious about this subject? Do some further research. You might be surprised at what you find.
If anyone has any other suggestions on what I should do a blog about then comment them below!
Until next time,
*It’s important to note the amount of people who self-harm who keep it hidden is likely much greater than those who don’t keep it hidden. This is important to know so that stereotypes about this behaviour aren’t made.
Self-harm links (and myth busters):
Social anxiety information:
Depression and anxiety information:
Suicide helpline (UK):http://www.samaritans.org/
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