Picture yourself: A capable person in most respects, having opinions and able to present them logically, having thoughts and ideas no less meaningful than those others have. Perhaps you’re a leader, a person who can make things happen. A person who can make a difference.

But despite having many good qualities that make you who you are, you have the label of a mental illness attached to you. Your thoughts and behavior are possibly coloured by your disorder. But mostly they’re not. Mostly you appear as normal as the next person. And yet, in the eyes of many, that label makes you less worthy.

But you’re not less worthy. You’re a person. You count.

Unless you have a thought disorder like psychosis—probably not the norm for the most part, but occasionally appearing—you are the same as everyone else. However, having that label or taking medication makes all the difference to how people view you or treat you.

According to Professor Sir Graham Thornicroft, author of Shunned: Discrimination against people with mental illness, “People with mental illness commonly describe the stigma and discrimination they face as being worse than their main condition. Discrimination can pervade every part of their daily life – their personal life, working life, sense of citizenship, their ability to maintain even a basic standard of living.”

All this, not because of who they are, but because of what they are. All because of a label.

When a conflict with an authority figure arises, you’re seldom given fair treatment. Perhaps you have been hurt, emotionally or physically (not uncommon in the life of one with such a label). In distress, you complain to your superior. But your complaint is dismissed. The common view is applied: “A person with mental illness cannot be regarded a credible witness.” Or maybe the reason is something else. Maybe you are not respected enough to have serious attention paid to your issues.

In any case, you seldom stand a chance of defending yourself against a person in authority. Your rights to be heard are not upheld like they would be for a more “normal” person. This is discrimination, not unlike other forms of discrimination. It happens.

Thornicroft expresses the injustice of such a situation: “Once a person has been defined as mentally ill, his or her protests are often discredited or, even worse, labelled one more ‘symptom’ of his or her illness.”

But, you may say, surely there are valid reasons to disbelieve a person with mental health issues. Paranoia could play a part, causing the “victim” to imagine a wrong done to him. Or the victim might be overly sensitive, wrongly interpreting a person’s behavior to be deliberately hurtful.

But these possibilities are no cause for dismissing a victim’s story. Though you have a mental illness you, like everyone else, deserve the opportunity to tell your story. Not to be heard would render you powerless, making you feel like a nonperson. This is a denial of justice.

If we, individuals living with mental health issues, are to be considered as people like any other, we must be given equal rights to have our side of the story heard. And when we are heard, will we be seen for who we are? Will it be realized that mental illness is only a part of who we are?

It should not come as a surprise that many of us are caring individuals. Many have concerns for the welfare of others. We are individuals who, just like anyone else, wants to contribute to our community. There are times when we might display symptoms of our illness. But only at times. We’re “real” people.

We deserve to be judged for who we are and not simply for what we are. Just like everyone else.