Judgment and People with Mental Illness

I was walking to the hospital the other day to observe a psychiatrist when I noticed a man in a wheelchair sitting on the corner of the intersection. He was wearing the hospital gown and had a number of medical gear attached to his body. I immediately thought that this man had some sort of mental illness and that he had escaped from the hospital. So I walked to the front desk and told the receptionist about the man. He made a phone call and gestured that it was going to be taken care of.

I decided to walk back toward the man to make sure he was going to be alright. But I kept my distance. In fact, I crossed the street so I could see him while being quite far away. The reason why I didn't approach him was because I didn't want to talk to someone with a mental illness.

After a minute or two, I started thinking about how I wanted to avoid him, even though I didn't really consider him to be a threat. This man seemed to be about my age, but he was in a wheelchair, and he had a cast on his foot.

Since I didn't want to treat him like he had a stigma, I decided to talk to him. It turns out that this man hadn't escaped from the hospital but rather that the nurses had let him out, because he wanted to get some fresh air and he wanted to beg. He told me that he had to have one of his toes removed, which is why he was wearing the cast, and that prior to the surgery, he had been bedridden for months.

We talked about a number of things in the 10 minutes we spoke. I asked him about a tattoo he had on his neck. He said it was his nephew's name. He then pointed to another one of his niece's name.

I asked him if he had anyone to come pick him up. He said no.

Then he asked me for money, so I gave him 5 bucks. (I've noticed that it's much easier to give someone money after you connect with them, probably because connecting with someone humanizes them.)

He was very grateful and offered to buy me lunch in the future. I said it was generous of him but that it was unnecessary.

What this experience shows is that I don't want to talk to people with mental illness, and that I'm quick to judge someone as having such a condition, if I observe that they behave oddly. This suggests that I need to withhold my judgment.