When people find out I own an american pit bull terrier (APBT) mix they are usually fairly shocked. I guess they picture people who own pit bulls to be thuggish or certainly not middle class living in suburbia. People gawk or grimace like it pains them to even hear the word “pit bull”. When people see us walking down the street they often cross to the other side. In reality Boston is about the biggest baby you will ever meet. He is terrified of wind and thunder storms, and hides in the foot well of the car on road trips (I hope Cesar Millan isn’t reading this, we’ve definitely failed as pet parents). My point is – he’s no more dangerous than a large, somewhat neurotic tabby cat.
So why do people react the way they do? I feel like I can relate to the stigma surrounding his breed, much like him I often feel the same reaction from people when I tell them what I do for a living.
“I don’t know how you work w/ those people, I couldn’t do it” I once had a neighbor tell me. I’m not going to pretend I didn’t get a kick out of saying “Really, because I’m one of ‘them’, I don’t think we’re all that bad”.
I’m not sure what it will take to change our society’s perceptions of mental illness. I hope that Denver doesn’t put a ban on people with diagnoses like they’ve done with pit bulls. In a way they have, you might recall the “camping ban” ordinance passed last year- its clear people don’t want to “deal with” those who suffer from illness, addiction, and poverty. I mean for no other health condition can you be physically restrained and drugged against your will.
What I do know is that stigma is based on fear and misinformation – the more we speak out and speak up – the more accurate information people have to consider. So keep telling your story – and keep the faith – and if you can support the advocacy organizations (like ours) who fight every day to give us a voice.