Rachel Stanley specialized in studying stigma while at Ripon College.

Much of her research focused on attitudes surrounding autism, but she knows from first-hand experience that health stigmas go beyond autism, and even mental health.

The newly minted Ripon alum, who graduated Sunday along with her 2017 cohort, uses a powered wheelchair to navigate longer stretches while getting by with a cane for shorter distances.

Although she sat through Sunday’s commencement in her wheelchair, she crossed the stage to receive her degree with her cane in hand.
Stanley deals with several chronic illnesses (a list she matter-of-factly rattles off: “dysautonomia,” “postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome,” “inappropriate sinus tachycardia”) which affect her heart rate and nervous system, among other symptoms.

But the fact that these health impediments are “physical” rather than “mental” has not prevented her from hearing a rebuke too often heard by those with mental illnesses: “Why can’t you just get over it?”

“People don’t actually accept and accommodate as much as you’d think,” Stanley said. “People say, ‘You wouldn’t tell someone in a wheelchair to walk.’ No, they [actually] do that ...

“I think it’s a well-meaning comparison [between physical and mental health], trying to get people to take mental health more seriously, but when you compare it to physical health, we don’t actually take physical health as seriously as you might think.”

She believes the sticking point might lie in attitudes toward chronic, ongoing health complications rather than temporary ones that eventually get resolved.

Read the full story in the May 18, 2017 edition of the Ripon Commonwealth Press.