A Day Without Mental Illness Stigma

What would it mean to have a society where mental illness has no stigma? First of all it would mean equality. Years ago when I took disability leave for a severe bout of bipolar depression the company I was working for took it upon themselves to fire me while I was on leave. Would I have been fired if I was out for cancer treatments? Maybe, but it would have been perceived as being very cold-hearted. It’s almost acceptable to fire someone who goes on leave for a mental illness. Who expects us to recover and live healthy, happy and productive lives?

Losing my job a week before Christmas and in the middle of a major depressive episode, my state of mind became even worse. It was as if I could not get a break anywhere I turned. I don’t know why they really fired me, but the evidence pointed to the fact I had written an untimely email and copied the CEO telling them I was suffering from a bipolar disorder episode. In my “right” mind I would have never written the letter, let alone sent it to the CEO! But I didn’t get any leeway even though they knew I was suffering with a mental illness. I had been in the business for 16 years and had a very successful career, except the last six years had been really hard because of my mental health state.   If I could have taken the time off I needed to get well and not have felt any repercussions from it I may have been able to continue working in the field I developed an expertise in. But this is not how things turned out for me. Stigma impacted my ability to stay gainfully employed.

When something like losing a job because of your illness happens it’s really easy to blame yourself for having a mental illness. We are already taught that we are “less than others” because of our conditions. Very often we are left off in the emergency room for treatment and don’t see a loved one again for several days. Going to the psych ward is perceived as an embarrassment and an experience not too many want to talk about with others. The stigma of mental illness effects whether or not people get treatment, because the very treatment we seek is entrenched with stigma factors.

Having no stigma would mean some people would not be able to make jokes about people who were suffering who were “crazy.” It would mean we would take care of those who had mental illness in a compassionate way with enough resources available so people could get the treatment they needed.

In a world without stigma those of us who are unlucky enough to have a mental illness would have no self-stigma. We would not feel guilty about being sick. We could work on getting the right treatment without the many fears that accompany self-stigma. Accepting our condition would be easier and looking for solutions would be our focus, instead of spending so much time going through fierce denial. Getting a proper diagnosis would be a relief instead of a “sentence.”

No stigma would mean we could keep our friends who would have a general understanding about what we were going through. They would not be afraid to interact with us and would look at us with the same respect they once had before we were diagnosed. The dynamics of relationships would not change to the extent that our friends no longer wanted to interact with someone who had a mental illness. We wouldn’t feel as if we had a plague and people wanted to distance themselves from us.

In a world without stigma the general population would understand mental illness was not just a disease of the poor or homeless. They would know mental illness can affect every socio-economic class regardless of education or income level.

Finally, a world without stigma would mean greater research dollars would be allocated to find cures and better treatment. We would not have to gain 60 pounds with medication trial and error. We could take medications without feeling like a “zombie” and continue on with our daily lives. Symptom free would be the expectation not a far off hope. Knowing the treatments would work would give us all a greater sense of relief and confidence to move on with the rest of our lives.

I hope I’ll see the day when the stigma surrounding mental illness is something we talk about from a historical perspective and when we do we all shudder to think this is how we treated a large percentage of our population who suffered with these illnesses. Society will one day be ashamed at how they acted. One day the days of mental illness stigma will only be a memory.

 

 

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15 thoughts on “A Day Without Mental Illness Stigma

  1. This is my prayer and hope, too, Amy. Due to the shame, I have only revealed my condition to two close friends. I thank God for my diagnosis and medication. Even though I wasn’t diagnosed until I was 50 (I’m 63 now), I’m only now beginning to understand the illness because of blogs like yours. It’s still kept so much in the dark, and I cringe when people make jokes or comments about moody people like, “He must be bipolar!”

    Thank you so much for this blog.

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    1. Susan,
      Thank you so much for your comment and kind words. I am so glad you were able to find the proper diagnosis and that you are relieved by having the proper treatment. I understand how you feel about telling people. It’s a very tough thing to do, and someday I hope that is not the case. Thanks again for your comment.

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  2. Hope you don’t mind a new Follower. I’m doing the 101 challenge. I can identify with the article. I have Fibro and Retrograde Amnesia. People that I know and don’t know look at me funny and treat me as though I am helpless sometimes. I also have light and sound sensitivity so I wear sunglasses and ear plugs all the time. But anyway, great article. Your brain flows freely very well. 🙂
    Much Love and Respect
    Ronovan

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    1. Thank you Ronovan for the follow and your kind words about the article. I have been reading and researching mental illness topics for so long I just feel like it all built up enabling the ability to write exactly what I wanted without so many filters in place worrying about how it was going to sound. I’m sorry you have been affected with stigma too. I hope your journey brings you peace and better health. Regards, Amy

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  3. Amy, I love this post. I’ve suffered through periods of depression and anxiety throughout my life… I know how it feels to feel perfectly “normal” and happy, and then suddenly you don’t even have the motivation to sit up, let alone get up off the couch. How it feels to have horrible mood swings come out of no where. How it feels to wonder where that “normal” you went, but to be too scared to mention to anyone that you think you might need help. I was SO scared to rely on medication, because of the stigma around mental illness and the people who openly seek treatment. I didn’t want people to look at me if I was legitimately upset about something and just say “Oh, she must be off her meds again” and laugh it off like I no longer mattered because I was brave enough to admit I needed help. I have been on a mild anti-depressant for about 8 months now, and it has made a WORLD of difference. If there was no stigma around mental illness, I would have gotten help a long time ago. Your post really touched me, and I wish you great success in your journey to end this stigma that goes along with Mental Illness.

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    1. Hi MK,
      Thank you for sharing your experience. I am so glad you have been able to get treatment and that it is helping you. I really have lived with a great deal of self-stigma and it made my condition worse because I didn’t pay close enough attention to how I was feeling. So glad you are doing well! Thanks again for your comment. Amy

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  4. I have social anxiety and a history of eating disorder. Thank you so much for writing and sharing this. I also feel that stigma is a huge roadblock to successfully recognizing and treating mental illness in our society. I hope we all soon see the day when this stigma no longer exists.

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    1. Amie…thanks for your comment and support. I really believe the more we can openly discuss mental illness the closer we will move to eliminating stigma. One day things will be better for all of us who suffer. Thanks again. Amy

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  5. Thank you, Amy, for your articulate post. No stigma? But what we do with ourselves??? Seriously, though, I don’t see that day coming entirely, but I think we’re heading in the right direction over time. Partially because we have developed effective medications for many mental illnesses, although you’re right that it’s not enough. My mom is bipolar type I and was diagnosed when I was 18 years old (I’m 56 now – she’s almost 80.) Even taking her meds she still has highs and lows that are more extreme than a person w/o bipolar illness, but I shudder to think what it would be like w/o medication. Interestingly, she has managed to maintain friendships over the years, but she does understand that her friends do have a lot to contend with in having her as a friend. I’m very proud of my mom for her being open to talk about this with others, working to maintain good relationships, and for taking her meds (not all bipolar people do when they are manic.) it isn’t an easy disease to have, and it’s chronic, but it is manageable and for that, I’m grateful. Reminds me of having something like diabetes and hopefully one day it will have just about the same amount of stigma as diabetes – none.

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    1. Hi…thanks for your comment. Interesting perspective from a person who has a loved one with a mental illness. Glad your mother has found the right medication and that she is doing well. My mother also has bipolar and she is 79. It took a long time to find the right combination of medications, but we all love her very much no matter what. Thanks again for commenting and I still hold out hope that one day we will eliminate stigma!

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  6. Amy, I too enjoyed your article about mental health stigma. I’ve had many losses over the years and have lost many jobs and friends because of the stigma. I am 58 and although on medications I still suffer through a lot of anxiety which can be devastating. Not all countries treat people with mental illness as a terrible thing. As a matter fact, in many parts of the world we are celebrated as very creative and sensitive people. Germany is one of those countries. I enjoy reading your story very much. It truly sheds light on mental illness.

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