Erode the Stigma

I have been writing a blog about mental health illness for over three years, with a primary emphasis on the stigma that is attached to having a mental illness, measures that can be taken in order to help ourselves get past the stigma and get help, and encouraging those suffering from mental illness to acknowledge their situation.  I have chosen this direction because the stigma is real and it is pervasive.  The stigma is slowly receding with the advent of well-known people speaking up about their own challenges with mental illness, but we do have a long way to go and I will continue to write and promote mental well-being.

My words have reached people in far away places, not only throughout the United States, where I reside, but as far away as Australia, Japan, the Philippines, Russia, England, Iran, and India.  Hopefully, these people have found some support from reading the blogs, but I feel a bit uncomfortable standing on a soapbox and shouting that we should all talk about our mental health challenges and not be shy or embarrassed about telling our stories.  I am acknowledging that I am still affected by this stigma of having a mental health illness.  At times, I find myself silent when it comes to talking about my own situation in public.  I wonder how people will respond to me after I divulge my secret? On the computer, protected by cyberspace, I speak out.  But in person, I always question if I really want to mention that I have an anxiety disorder.  More often than not, I do speak up about this challenge with which I have struggled , and I am able to speak out proactively, but I am still a bit gun-shy about the subject.  I can only imagine what a challenge it must be for other people with a mental illness who are not writing about this topic to openly speak up.

I read an article that appeared in the September 2019 edition of Men’s Health magazine written by a man who is studying to become a psychiatrist.  He states that during his interview for his residency, he was asked why he really wanted to become a psychiatrist. He danced all around the answer, but never admitted to his interviewer that he had battled depression and knew what it was like from the other side.  What he wanted to say was, “ I have been depressed, and I have recovered.  And my experience gave me an empathetic understanding of the patients we’re commonly devoted to.”  He goes on to say that stating that fact would have been his most relevant qualification, not the rather impressive resume of past education.  He also acknowledged that making that statement would have been his “greatest achievement.”  The article ended with these words, “Every time you talk about depression, you erode the stigma – yours and everyone else’s.”

 

Resources:

National Alliance On Mental Health

National Institute On Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Stop Being Selfish

This morning I had a long and wonderful conversation with one of my dearest friends. We chatted about so many things concerning our families.  We wandered from the cute things our grandkids say, to the challenge of so many personalities spending quality time together on summer vacations, and of course we covered the picky eating habits of just about everyone, which make large family dinners very challenging.  The topic that took over the end of our conversation was the different strains of mental illness in both of our families, including, at one time or another, anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, ADD, and ADHD.  Almost all of those within these two families who are living with mental illness have reached out for and gotten the help that he/she needed, and all those people are living good, productive, happy lives.  Little thought is given to these illnesses from day to day.   However, two family members will not admit that they need help, and therefore are suffering in unnecessary ways, and they are depriving themselves of the happielives they could lead.  There is absolutely no reason that anyone should suffer with depression, or anxiety, or bipolar disorder.  There are so many medications and therapies available.

I don’t know why these two people are in denial.  Family members have tried to talk to both of them to encourage them to seek help.  But nothing has worked to get these two people moving in the right direction.  The saddest part is that not only do these people continue to suffer, but the whole family around them suffers as well.  It is very difficult to be around someone who is always sad.  It is very difficult to be around someone who is always anxious.  It is really difficult to be around someone who is manic.  It is really selfish for someone to refuse to get help for him/herself, because that person is impacting more lives than just their own by staying in a place of disfunction, pain, and sadness.

Please do not join the rank of sufferers.  Stop being selfish.  Find a doctor that specializes in mental health illness.  Make an appointment with that doctor.  Go to that appointment. Talk to your doctor about a plan of action that can bring you to a fuller, happier, richer life – for both you and your family.

Below is a list of organizations that can help you start helping yourself.

National Alliance On Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

the mood changed

“ We talk about mental-health in a reactive way, after a Kate Spade or an Anthony Bourdain commits suicide.  Part of me wonders, if we were to normalize talking about mental health, how many people could we keep from that kind of suffering?” (This sentence appeared at the end of an article that I read recently.)

Most people just do not want to talk about mental-health illness.  The topic of mental-health illness is not found on any list of acceptable subjects for polite conversation.  If the topic creeps in during an evening gathering, the tone of the conversation changes.  People get quiet.  A hush comes over the room.  Eye contact ceases.  People begin to look down into their laps or off to the side.  They squirm in their seats, and sit counting the minutes until the conversation can be changed.

Just the other evening I was with a group of wonderful, bright, witty women, all of whom happen to have partaken in therapy at one time or another.  They are no strangers to the concept of seeking help, and of knowing the benefits of that help.  However, only one of these women knew that I had actually suffered from depression and anxiety.  We were all laughing, drinking, eating, and sharing personal stories.  After awhile, each person had made an off-handed reference to their experience with therapy, leading me to feel safe enough that I could share my story with these wonderful, bright, witty women.  At a moment in the conversation that seemed apt for an appropriate segue, I shared that I write a blog about mental health, and in particluar about the stigma that is so unfortunately attached to it.  I was immediately aware of the change in the mood around me.  Everyone got quiet.  No one knew what to say.  Wonderful, bright, witty, women, all of whom had some experience with a mental health issue, and perhaps even the medications that often accompany a mental health problem, were embarassed by my acknowledging my own battle with mental illness.  To this moment, I do not remember how the conversation moved forward.  I became self-concious, and I know I stopped talking.  The evening continued on, but this incident will certainly make me think carefully before sharing that information again.

If this can happen to me, someone who writes a blog about mental health, someone who can speak about it a bit more freely than many others, how can we expect the average joe to find this topic comfortable?  If the people who understand it are uncomfortable, then how can we expect those who have no idea about mental health illness begin to gain a level of comfort in a conversation dealing with this topic?

The solution to getting rid of the stigma that accompanies mental illness needs to start with us – the people who have a mental illness.  We need to be the ones to speak up and out about our own experiences.  Let people know that we are normal, wonderful, bright, witty, people with a health issue.

Resources

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute on Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Make Each Day Better

There are two people in my life who are battling difficult health issues.  If the health issues aren’t enough of a challenge, they are both also having a tough time with anxiety and depression as a result of the uncertainty of their physical difficulties. Besides my knowing that they are spending many days not feeling well, I understand that it is not easy to move oneself through and past the concerns and fears, as well as the unknown future that permeates their daily life.  The confluence of all of these issues can be paralyzing to a person.

As a result of this traffic jam of situations, a lot of what occurs in their daily lives is beyond their control.  They simply have to deal with all the day to day issues that go along with negotiating the impact of a serious illness.  They are committed to doc appointments, the fatigue, the loss of mobility, the side effects of medications, etc., etc.  As the saying goes, they are living with “new normals” and it ain’t easy.  It would be nice to see them retake control over a little piece of their lives, starting with the paralyzing anxiety.  One of the two people is in fact trying very hard to keep a positive attitude, and that helps reduce the anxiety.  Of course, each day brings new problems, and he is trying to stay on top of those challenges with as much support from external resources as possible.  He is definitely open to asking for help and is overcoming the stigma attached to reaching out for help.  The other person, not so much.

But everyone should be open to recognizing the benefits of a positive mental outlook in healing the body.  Perhaps relaxation exercises are your thing.  Or maybe imaging would work for you.  There are many options to consider.  Whether one does relaxation exercises, meditation, yoga, imaging, or any one of a myriad of other self-help programs, taking steps towards developing and maintaining a positive, proactive demeanor may go a long way in helping someone become a partner in the healing process instead of a victim of the disease.

Make each day count. Try to make each day better.

 

 

Ready Again

I would describe the challenges of the past year, some of them sad and painful, and some of them wonderful and validating, but the point of my blog is to help to remove the stigma from the words mental illness,not to provide a diary of the details of my own journey.  However, I will tell you that all of these challenges coming one after the other , both the good and the bad, made the journey of the past year difficult.  And yet, I have made it through, almost intact, by putting one foot in front of the other, and asking for help when I needed it.

Although taking a pause in writing for my blog, I did continue to read articles and listen to interviews about mental health issues.  I realized that there are a lot of people thinking and talking about the stigma of mental illness, and how that stigma is keeping many people from getting the help they need.  That ongoing conversation helps me believe that we are on a path that will lead us to a kinder and gentler world for mental health sufferers.

People are increasingly talking about mental health.  One of the points that is being made repeatedly is that getting help for a mental illness is a sign of strength, not a sign of weakness.  They are asserting that anyone, from any country, with any kind of socio-economic background, with any kind of job, with any kind of public recognition, with any kind of family, with any kind of profession, with any kind of financial resources, can be touched by a mental health illness.  Just as with any other illness in this world, mental health illness knows no boundaries, and all men and women are equally susceptible.

Below you will find a list of some of the many organizations that can provide help to those who are touched by mental illness and would like to find a path to achieving wellness:

National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health

Heads Together Mental Health