Normality: The Abnormal Bell

Perhaps the most ambiguous word in the English dictionary is the word normal. Normal suggests that the entire spectrum of human personality can be summed up with a bell curve — a nice, heavy cluster of one personality type in one single group in the middle of the spectrum, one single category which fails to account for not only differences created by biology but also the superficial, like cultural upbringing, personal taste, or, simpler, choice of hobby. Any deviated personality from this cluster would be so random that only 5% or less of the population would be considered abnormal.

To an extent, this hypothetical deviation is spot on: less than 5% of the U.S. population deals with extreme mental illness. Extreme is the important word here. When we factor out extreme cases of mental illness and look for general prevalence in America, we find 18.5% of the total population. These two numbers together imply that approximately one in four individuals deals with mild to extreme mental illness. So when you’re driving along the freeway and that bus full of loud, obnoxious kids drives by, at least a handful of those budding sprites are managing some kind of mental disorder. If mental illness is so prevalent, can we really consider it abnormal?

The question of abnormality is even more important when we consider undocumented illness (not to be confused with undocumented immigrants, though Americans do irrationally support building walls against both). Consider the not-so-normal distribution of Americans in the middle and lower classes whose access to mental health services are neither funded by wealth nor by insurance. How many of these individuals suffer daily without the tools they would otherwise gain with adequate support? Without support or access, dealing with these mental health issues can feel isolating. Isolation breeds suicidal ideation (experience, not fact).

The only way to overcome isolation and create opportunities for the underserved is to normalize the abnormal. Once we acknowledge the elephant, nobody pays attention to him anymore. Ask questions. Be vulnerable. Encourage. Be open to the uncomfortable.

I write for this blog to give a voice to my personal experience. I want to use my words to normalize the universality of abnormality — but I can’t do it all by myself. You have to be willing to talk, listen, and relate. When we create a culture of abnormality, the very concept itself disappears and people become free to live. Let’s save lives together.

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