People With Mental Illness: I’m So Sorry About Kenneth Cole’s Billboard

Dear People With Mental Illness,

I’m so sorry about Kenneth Cole’s billboard. I’m so sorry you have to see things like this pop up on your computer that make you feel subhuman. These are both such important causes (gun control and adequate care for people with mental illness) but linking them is absolutely atrocious. It stigmatizes and misrepresents you. One in four people in the world have suffered from mental illness. You are not an anomaly. You are not a freak. You are not violent. You are not damaged. You are not less-than. You are not a monster. You are a valuable, unique, wonderful human being who deserves everything grand that this life has to offer. Come out of the shadows and stand proudly in who you are.

I’m so sorry that the facts about you aren’t publicized. People with mental illness are more likely to be victims of crimes. They are no more likely than the general population to be violent. 

I’m so sorry about situations that messages like this billboard can cause. I’m so sorry that after you’ve uttered the words, “mental illness” something in the person who’s listening’s eyes or demeanor has changed. I am so sorry they have brought up another subject or walked away. That’s their problem, not yours. They haven’t done their homework and are reacting to the stigma. That’s on them. Don’t let shame live in you, where is doesn’t belong. Don’t let anyone define you. How could a label or diagnosis ever come anywhere close to all that is *YOU* ? 

I am so sorry that the media hasn’t cared for you or served you. I am so sorry the media shouts, “THE CRAZY KILLER WAS MENTALLY ILL!,” or “WAS THE MASS KILLER SUFFERING FROM DEPRESSION?!” and doesn’t highlight the phenomenal, brilliant accomplishments of those who struggle with mental illness. I am so sorry the media doesn’t show the mother who stayed up all night sewing a costume for her son’s Peter Pan play at school. I am so sorry the media doesn’t show Kay Redfield Jamison, the brilliant psychiatrist who suffers from bipolar disorder. I am so sorry the media doesn’t show more of the playwrights, football players, activists, scientists, musicians, teachers, lawyers, doctors, etc!

I am so sorry for the ignorant comments messages like the one in this billboard can cause. I’m so sorry people have said, “Don’t go crazy and kill me or anything!” “Oh, I’ll have to hide the knives when you’re around” to you, when you are the most compassionate, kind person who would never hurt a fly.

I am so sorry that there was a chance for your inadequate, confusing, expensive and sometimes completely unavailable care to be highlighted, but it was linked with gun violence and now you just want it to disappear. I’m so sorry that mental health care doesn’t have it’s own billboard, when it is so deserving. I’m sorry you’ve been treated like you’re weird, a child, stupid, talked to in a completely condescending tone, or talked about (by professionals) where others and you can hear. I’m sorry you haven’t been treated like the smart, capable person that you are. I’m so sorry the secretary tells you no appointments are available for three months and your voice breaks on the other end of the phone. I’m so sorry you can’t figure out which psychiatrists are actually in your network. I’m sorry the insurance company put you on hold for forty-five minutes and then denies your claims. I’m so sorry about that awful music they play while you wait to hear that they can cover $20 out of $1000. I’m so sorry you keep hearing, “THERE’S NOTHING I CAN DO, MA’AM/SIR!” I’m sorry the pharmacist says, “That will be $141.95” or “We don’t have a generic” or “I ran out of that this morning, try Walmart!”

I’m so sorry about the hurtful things you see like this billboard, and the hurtful things people say to you. Sail away from them on your recovery ship into a cheesy postcard sunset and don’t look back. Let their words fly off as you gain more and more speed. Their words are heavy and slow you down. Their words perpetuate guilt, shame, and fear that cause you to avoid treatment and stay stuck. Only kindness is aloud on board your ship. Stand up against the stigma and be one of the people working to end it. Join a movement and educate people. 

I’m so sorry people have made you feel weak. You are SO, incredibly strong. Seeking and staying with treatment is strong and brave. You should be celebrated, for your willpower and courage.

I am so sorry everyone feels they can tell you who you are and what you need. I’m so sorry you’ve had to deal with people who feel like they have the authority to tell you what is best for your treatment, when they aren’t doctors and they’re misinformed about mental illness. They say, “You have the blues and just need to get over it!” They were “depressed” once and cured themselves with yoga and green juices. Their cousin Mary cured her anxiety by eliminating gluten but she has amazing willpower. They say, “If you just thought more positively…” I’m so sorry for some reason these illnesses are everyone’s expertise and business. I’m so sorry people don’t know the difference between normal human sadness, the blues and CLINICAL ILLNESSES. 

I’m so sorry for this billboard that makes you want to hide. Don’t. Hide. The world NEEDS you. The world needs your story and your voice. You are here for a reason. 

I’m so sorry this billboard makes you feel like who you are is not beautiful and perfect, because it is. You are amazing! You may have an ocean inside of you, and not a peaceful pond or a fountain with perfect landscaping. You may feel waves and storms but you also feel an endless glistening sea with no boundaries. Be proud of the ocean. Just because you are different, doesn’t mean you are broken. Different people change the world.

If you are struggling right now, HANG ON! I know the pain is exhausting and it’s so hard to see the path ahead, but you will find your flash light. I promise. You will keep moving forward and it will get brighter and brighter. You will get better and better. You can have an absolutely fabulous life AND a mental illness. The two can go together!

I’m so sorry that I had to see this billboard and it made me cry. I am so sorry it hangs in the city where I am a grad student (4.0 last semester! WHOO!) a teacher, a volunteer, a composer, a friend, and a valuable member of my community. BUT I’m turning the pain to fuel to write this blog, connect with you and stand up for a cause I’m so passionate about. For that, I am grateful.

Together, we can do anything. We can get this billboard taken down. Who is with me?

I love you! Sincerely, Rachel


102 thoughts on “People With Mental Illness: I’m So Sorry About Kenneth Cole’s Billboard

      1. Thank you for your heart felt and eloquent post. My one comment would be, surely not as eloquent as yours but it is to the point. ” stupid is that stupid does.” my choice of weapon is my intellect, and I’m sorry Kenneth Cole but I refused to fight an unarmed person.

        Liked by 4 people

  1. Thank you for writing this Rachel. Amber from My Journey to Freedom from Anxiety also wrote a great post about the billboard. I am going to post a quote from this post that I really like. Please feel free to let me know if you’d like me to take it down for any reason.

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Let’s get this billboard down, post haste! (I’m not sure that “post haste” is used correctly here… I just hear people say it a lot when they want to emphasize lol) It makes me so sad that people say such ignorant things about us, especially when they use their celebrity to do so. With great power comes great responsibility, and Mr. Kenneth Cole is definitely not being responsible.

        Liked by 2 people

      2. We’ve got a crazy battle going on on Twitter if you have an account! Lol!! Post haste sounds so awesome but i don’t know what it means either! Keep it! Hahahah we are starting petition! Will keep you posted! 😊😍

        Liked by 2 people

  2. Only the very wealthy have access to treatment and those who don’t and have an untreated mental illness that increases violence potential will behave violently.

    The real question is not why we have access to guns. The real question is why we don’t have access to treatment.

    Liked by 6 people

  3. Thank you for your recognition of what mental illness really is- and isn’t. Your message is appropriate to so many countries with just minor changes. For instance, in my Country I don”t pay for my drugs but psychiatric care isn’t easily available unless you’re actually manic at the time.
    I haven’t seen the billboard before and don’t know the man. I’m guessing he’s probably pro gun control. If so, I forgive him his slip If the point is that crazies have access to weapons rather than people who are ill. Very unfortunate wording and offensive to many people but as you point out, each time someone guns down people in a school and the press say how he suffered from depression,we all become tarred with the same brush. Yet not all depressives kill. The press should say he was a mean minded bas***d with a chip on his shoulder the size of Texas but had access to as many guns as he wanted.
    Mr Cole’s message needs to be reworded but his message shouldn’t be taken away.

    Liked by 5 people

  4. It makes me very sad to think that we are in the 21st century and I can still see lots of people thinking the billboard message is true. Mental illness doesn’t make monsters, it just makes people who need help to overcome their fears, problems, issues.

    Liked by 4 people

  5. I am 24. I have struggled with mental illness for more than half of my life. I am not a monster. I am not dangerous. I have just been sad, scared or felt like I had too much to handle at different stages of my life. That doesn’t make me any different or scarred. It’s just made me stronger and wiser. Whilst I haven’t openly spoken about any of this in the past I am starting just now because I am not ashamed.

    Liked by 6 people

      1. πŸ™‚ thank you. It takes a lot of courage to admit that it is ok to not be ok but once you do… You get to start the fixing. Denial is just a hiding tool. Once you accept that things are not quite working for you…. You’re halfway there. πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

    1. Nothing to be ashamed of Mariona, many of us have felt sad, alone and scared at different times. At my age I can still want to hide when someone knocks at the door. Be proud of who you are and what you’ve achieved despite the illness rather than what you’ve become because of it.
      xxx Massive Hugs xxx

      Liked by 5 people

      1. I’ve become the best possible outcome. I am way beyond proud and determined to talk and try to help people who are in the same situation and may need a helping hand πŸ™‚ You can always turn bad good!

        Liked by 3 people

  6. I’m really not a compulsive sorter,

    Except to divide pennies from quarters,

    There’s really no trick

    I just don’t have a tic…

    Until my crayons get all out of order!

    Liked by 2 people

  7. Here is how I see blame.

    If people with sound minds and bodies know that there is a corrolatio0n between certain kinds of untreated mental illnesses and violence and they don’t actively speak out and demand a change who is to blame?

    The essence of some severe mental illnesses is loss of impulse control. Everyone knows this.

    I can’t fathom that this truth isn’t common knowledge.

    The gun certainly isn’t to blame.

    This kind of gun violence only begins to appear with regularity AFTER the dismantling of the public mental health system.

    When you look closely at the stories behind the people who commit these murders you will see a common theme; either the patient or his family sought help and were turned away.

    What are they supposed to do?

    What can one do when interacting with an underfunded mental health system that doesn’t have the resources to protect the public and the patient from danger?

    Who is to blame when someone is ill, goes to clinic that will not do a real assessment, and thus let’s him go because he is deemed healthy based on the most incidental criteria?

    Who is really to blame for streets that reek of urine and feces and all of the suffering and mayhem and preventable violence of the past 30+ years?

    Our media is focused on one woman who wants to ‘Save Our Children” from same sex marriages.

    Where are the people who will fight to save our children from the greed that eats them alive
    and refuses to prevent the sick from getting sicker.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Robert. I need to study the correlation between mental illness and violence–my suspicion is that there is correlation, not necessarily causation, and that lack of access to adequate treatment (or any treatment, for that matter) plays an important role. Best wishes to you.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. yes — There is a corrolation especially in those people who have severe untreated forms of Schizophrenia….Paranod type…

        I suggest that you use Alzheimer’s disease as your control group.

        In many ways Alzheimer’s affects judgement and impulse control in the same way as severe Schizophrenia.

        Alzheimer’s disease is also classified and a mental disorder and is in the DSM V.

        The real difference between Alzheimer’s disease and Schizophrenia is age of onset.

        We know that Alzheimer’s patients are prone to fits of temper and violence…

        Now imagine a physically healthy 20 year old with Alzheimer’s disease…

        He doesn’t recognize his family and thinks they are out to get him.

        Now add to the confusion their rejection of him and an inability to access treatment and medication.

        What might happen if in his confusion he decided it is either them or me?

        I don’t fully understand why medicine can see the harm in not treating Alzheimer’s disease while blithely ignoring the harm in not treating Schizophrenia.

        Liked by 1 person

      2. Thanks, Robert, you make an excellent point here. I don’t understand, either… But Rachel’s post and the exchanges I read in the comments give me important perspective and broaden my understanding of mental illness in general. Best wishes to you.

        Liked by 2 people

    2. I totally agree that ‘The essence of some severe mental illnesses is loss of impulse control’ though I’m not so sure that this type of crime only starts to appear after the dismantling of the mental health services. That’s tantamount to saying that these sick crimes are only committed by the mentally ill. I don’t believe for a minute that’s true. Many of these are hate crimes committed by those whose strong views on religion or otherwise have never been taken seriously enough.
      In the UK a nightclub for gays was targeted with a bomb when there were still mental health services and synagogues have often been tartgeted even if not the people.These people are not mentally ill.
      In the US. Those people in the KKK were not mentally ill even though I’d happily call them sick.They were just people with extreme views. Some of the worst crimes committed on US soil like the bombing of a Government Building were not done by mentally ill people. Most of the atrocities that have happened in schools have not been done by people who are ill, but by those who have had access to weapons and have hated enough to use them. Take away that access to weapons and you take away their ability to act out their fantasies. The gun may not be to blame, but access to them certainly may be, especially in quantity.

      Liked by 3 people

      1. I agree and if I implied that I think they do I am in error. The frequency of crimes committed by people with untreated forms of mental illness that impair judgement and impulse control has gone up.

        From what I’ve read, some of those guys who shot up schools really did try to get help…and really did have a diagnosed illness.

        But more people with untreated mental illnesses harm themselves rather than other people.

        I agree with you about guns. We have a responsibility to place our children before property rights.

        Liked by 2 people

  8. Thank you for sharing this and bringing awareness. I hadn’t seen or heard of this billboard until I just read your blog about it. Why isn’t this in the news? Why isn’t the media making a huge deal about the hate behind this? Mental Illness needs more attention, because of crap like this.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. I know! Ugh! I randomly stumbled upon it on Twitter and I was so shocked that I didn’t think it was a real billboard. It’s on a busy highway in my city! I can’t believe how stigmatizing it is. Another girl on Twitter and I started a petition to take it down – I’ll put a link here tmrw. Thanks so much for speaking out against it as well!


  9. Rachel, thank you so much for this post. I have learned an important lesson. I consider myself a compassionate and informed physician, and I admit I did not realize the unintended meaning of this billboard until I read this post. I have cared for people with mental illness my whole career, and feel strongly about gun control. I’m sure we can all see how mental illness and gun violence came to be linked in the media (and thus our otherwise uninformed minds) and your admonishment to beware of the pitfalls our unconscious biases is very well taken. Do we think linking these two issues has no merit whatsoever? I’m still considering, and now I lean toward not, thanks to you. Please know that I fully support and admire your work here, and I thank you for it. Please keep writing!

    Liked by 4 people

    1. Hi Catherine! Thanks SO much- here is an excellent blog that explains much better than I ever could, why this linking is so harmful.

      I wanted to do a patient perspective but above is one from a psychiatrist – the american psychiatric association came out against the board and there’s a great interview w them out there as well! πŸ™‚

      Liked by 1 person

  10. “You Look Like Chocolate Milk. Your hair looks like Barbed wire. Why is your skin so dirty?” when I was in grade school, I heard these comments almost every day. What they were really telling me, was that because of my skin colour, I did not deserve to be treated as a human being and that my skin was something to be ashamed of. Words have immense power and when we take a blanket statement about gun control and associate mental illness with the image of a gun wielding psychopath. We institute of a from of social slavery, Where essentially we are telling those who are sick, that they do not belong in society, that they belong in the mad house, that they are less than human. We are telling them that they are not part of God’s creation, they are a mistake, that God forgot to erase.

    You know back in the day, There were “scientific studies” done by those who were in power, to validate the claims that people of colour, were not human, did not possess a soul and could therefore be bought and sold as property. That somehow their darker skin, was a curse and they needed to be punished. it was this propaganda that allowed the institution of slavery to remain in tact for more than 400 years. This was literally the message that taught to public, through the churches, the judicial system, the education system, the medical community and every facet of american culture. It was this blatant ignorance that allowed for the commercialization of human beings. and it is this same sentiment that echos so strongly to me through this billboard.

    The Mentally Ill are not words on a chalk board, they are not faceless nameless pieces of paint. They are people, with stories and hopes, dreams and lives that are beyond extraordinary. They are the people who have contributed so much to making our society great. They are the true hero’s in my eyes. And to see someone take their struggle, their pain and simply make a mockery of it ,it is not just ignorant, it is the highest form of cruelty. Regardless, we are stronger than any billboard.

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Wow. So powerful. I think you should post this as a blog with the billboard! Shout these truths! We still have so far to go with racism -I can fathom what we still see and hear- I’m so glad the little girl on the playground grew up to be a powerful woman who knows she is a perfect child of God full of power, grace and beauty! You’re amazing!


      1. Thank you so much for the kind comment! That really made me smile πŸ™‚ I took your suggestion and I wrote my own blog post on this issue. Once I started writing, I expanded further on the idea of Gun control and who really has the power to change the situation. Where we should be putting the responsibility. If you could check it out when you have the chance, I’d be most grateful πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

  11. I am so glad you posted this! Perfect! I saw a FB friend post this the other day, not realizing how stigmatizing it was and I told her it was that and shaming. She took down the post. I hope she reads this (I just posted it on my FB). It’s perfect!

    Liked by 2 people

      1. Hi Rachel,
        I signed πŸ™‚ I hope this petition gets more supporters behind it by the way, I was reading through a former comment and I think someone mentioned about starting a movement. Well It’s obvious that this biog has become a forum for people to exchange their personal stories and experiences with Mental Illness but perhaps it can even be taken a step further. People love collaborations and will literally jump at the opportunity to share their stories Maybe there can be future collaborative projects, where you can compile these stories together and share them in some sort of publication It could be a book or even something more interesting than that. You could even give a live periscope session, just talking about Mental Health and get people watching. I think that it would garner alot of support and really reach as many people as possible. Or you could even do a meetup in the future and try to get everyone together in one place, just to have an open dialogue. The internet definitely connects all of us but I often think it’s great when this tool can be taken not just on-line but into the real world. The possibilities are endless. If I think of anything else I will definitely let you know πŸ™‚

        Liked by 1 person

  12. I do wish this message would reach Kenneth Cole. But to the rest of us, remember stupid is as stupid does. And my personal weapon of choice is my intellect. Kenneth Cole I refuse to fight an unarmed person, so you sir do not have to worry about me. Just remember everyone it’s sticks and stones and yes names to hurt us, only when we’re alone and vulnerable. But look around and realize you are not alone we are not Vulnerable we are together in spirit and purpose and enforce. Julie

    Liked by 2 people

  13. Rachel, it’s great that you have re-framed a negative message in society into a positive and productive message here πŸ™‚

    I feel that gun control issues need to be re-framed by media and groups as well. It is unfortunate, but reality, that some people with mental illness have a propensity for violence, but that is because of thier propensity for violence… not because of mental illness as a blanket association. There are evil people who do not suffer from mental illness who commit horrible crimes. There are people who ‘snap’ and also people who make stupid and fatal choices. But if we relate the question of gun control as ‘People Control’, so few then have hope for answers to fix it. Mental illness is an easy, unfair scapegoat to relate to the masses – People Control not so much. And this is unwittingly where the question is asked over and over- is about about people or is it about guns and the availibility to acquire them. It is about both. And the question being about both should give rise to groups and others expanding the conversation that realistically includes- gang membership or association, drug use or abuse, suicidal idealations or previous attempts for anyone, pharmacidal affects or interactions, personal and societal trauma’s for all populations, training, personal evaluations for all populations of gun ownership, affliation with hate groups, media reform, child rearing, assault weapons, theft, and more etc etc… Impossible list there really. Again, the mental illness is the scapegoat for all of those things. We do need to make it a realistic converation, like you are doing and I appreciate it very much.

    Liked by 4 people

  14. A very thoughtful and intelligent reply, but you don’t have to apologise for the ignorant stupidity of others. Let them find out for themselves what mental illness is all about, then they won’t make any more ridiculous links as per the billboard. Would it be possible to reblog this post on my site?

    Liked by 2 people

      1. With pleasure. The more stigma and discrimination is highlighted from around the world the better it is for those battling mental illness πŸ™‚

        Liked by 2 people

  15. I hadn’t seen this before but it’s really disgusting. I’m sure it wasn’t meant to be offensive, I’m sure it wasn’t meant to hurt anyone or make anyone feel like less of a person, but no matter the intention it is so not okay.

    Liked by 2 people

  16. This is the first that I have heard about this billboard and it makes me sick! It would be just like saying 40million people suffer from Bulimia. Some have access to help, but all have access to food!!!! I think that it is wrong in so many ways to connect mental illness with gun violence. I strongly believe people that commit serious crimes with guns have more issues then just mental illness. Its wrong to put individuals that suffer from mental illness in a category of people that could potentially be dangerous with weapons. For the 1% of people out there that act out of rage and cause hate and disconnect with weapons, they may have issues just like everyone else, but to stereo type the rest of the 99% is wrong! This is just my 2 cents.

    Tim Foster

    Liked by 2 people

  17. Rachel, this post made me tear up. Partly because of the billboard, but mostly for the compassion you have towards those who are suffering and afraid. I’m very thankful I came across your blog. Your efforts to advocate for the voiceless are so admirable. I’m new to the blogosphere and so far I’m really looking up to yours! As someone who has bipolar disorder, I can’t thank you enough for also speaking out for us.

    Our voice and stories are the most important things we have!

    Can’t wait to create hope and promote change with you!

    Thankful for your heart. Let’s take our light to the darkest of places.
    XO- Laura

    Liked by 1 person

    1. SO wonderful to meet you, Laura! I can’t thank-you enough for your kind words! It’s easy to speak up for and with people when you know what it’s like and how much it hurts. No one should have to ever feel ashamed or looked down upon. Yes, we have the power to create change by sharing our stories and speaking our truths. The stigma has to stop! WHOOOO! We will bring the light to those dark places! YES! πŸ™‚ XO

      Liked by 1 person

  18. Rachel,
    My boyfriend keeps guns. My depression, and PTSD, is somewhat ongoing due to damage to my limbic system. One day he and I were talking on the phone. I was at home. He was at work. He said, “I am worried about your mental state”. I said, “and you keep guns in our home why”? I am not suicidal. Nor was I was I that day. As a matter of fact my sense of humor almost had me shoot a happy face in our wall. (If you knew me better, that would be funny). Get the guns out of here if you are worried.
    I do not have a problem with gun ownership. I do not think they belong in a home with somebody who is enduring depression or any other kind of mental illness.


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