Friday, October 20, 2006

TO READ: Stopping the Stigma Around Mental Illness
Today I spoke about mental illness stigma to clients at the substance abuse program at Highland Hospital in Oakland, along with other members of the Alameda County Mental Health Speakers Bureau. Our presentation identified and discussed stigma we sometimes receive from others concerning our illness: our personal strength and character; our need for treatment, including therapy and medication; our fitness for employment; and other things. It also discussed "internalized stigma" -- what happens we ourselves start to believe these negative messages about our worth.

I know I've felt stigmatized and discriminated against at times because of my illness. Even now, after writing and speaking publicly about it for years, there are times I meet a new person and hesitate, wondering what I want to say to the almost inevitable question "What do you do?" But I sometimes internalize it too. For example, my mind can ask nasty questions when I'm catching up with old friends and colleagues -- Why have I been out of the workforce for so long? Is my bipolar illness truly that bad, or do I not really want to get well? If I were stronger, would I need all these meds and therapy? Fortunately, at this point I can catch myself pretty quickly, or my husband or friends will help me correct my thinking. But it can be tough.

The program clients today had many questions about how reluctant they felt to "admit" that they might need therapy or even meds for depression, bipolar disorder or other mental illnesses. And the point I felt was most important to emphasize was that, while there might not be cures for these illnesses, one can recover and develop a meaningful life.

What does recovery mean? Recovery is a journey (not a destination) toward wholeness as a person, considering mental and physical health, one's spiritual self, and a role in life that one finds meaning in. That meaning could be the resumption of a high-powered, full-time career, but it is also meaningful to work part-time, create art, be a caring family member, do volunteer work, spread joy in the world, help another person, educate oneself. And we're all on a different journey toward recovery. For me, it requires, or has required, medicines, therapy, ECT, TMS (magnetic treatments), education, lots of writing, the support of my family and friends and peers, etc.

Where are you in your recovery? Even if you feel in the depths of despair, you're making a move in the right direction right now by reading this and learning of another consumer's ideas on recovery. You're educating yourself and perhaps feeling some solidarity or support. What can you do next? Check out the links listed on the right side of this page for information, encouragement, ideas on creating art and literature, and finding a support group, good doctor, or therapist. All of these resources can help you break out of the internal stigma you may be carrying. Then you'll be able to reach out and help confront the stigma and prejudice in the world around us. Bon voyage, and be in touch!


Vijay A. Yande said...

i also face depression many times. i want to get read of this thing. anything u can help me


Susan Bernard said...

I absolutely agree about writing to cure depression. From the moment I was diagnosed as bipolar II, I began writing about my experiences with medication, which were horrible. Writing the only thing that saved me until I went off medication and began healing myself!