Awareness, Bipolar, Mental Health, Musings, Stigma

A Thought About Stigma

6d8be7883823283e73cd4b91bbc40942The issue of stigma involving mental illness is alive and well, but who is responsible to stop it? How can it be stopped? I’ve been thinking about this a lot. I don’t even know if I am truly convinced that I have the right to say that I am sick when I really truly am sick. Stigma is often self-inflicted, I have come to believe. Not that I am openly stigmatizing myself, or directly and purposefully  perpetuating it, but by allowing myself to be affected by it. By that I mean by allowing myself to feel or believe, whether unconsciously or not, that what is being implied through stigma is truth. For example, I wasn’t able to continue in my last career because I wasn’t able to maintain a depression/manic free state. Sure, it was a good job and I was able to go on medical leave, but ultimately I left the job that I loved because of instability. Why then, in the back of my mind is my default feeling about this that it is my fault and that I couldn’t keep the job because of some personality flaw, or some other flaw that is in my control. Why do I feel like I screwed up and that in reality, didn’t deserve to keep the job. It makes me feel bad. I know intellectually that I was sick, but I can’t feel that it is true. I don’t feel that I have the right to say that I am sick. It has to stop.

This has got me to thinking. While it is important to educate about mental illness, and that will help combat stigmatization against the mentally ill (I personally don’t see the difference between mental and physical illness, but that is a topic for another time. In fact, I did a post related to that here. ), I think it is probably most important that we focus on ourselves . We need to change the language both in general and in the way we are referring to ourselves and our situations. If we are experiencing depression, anxiety, mania, or are referring to a time that we were, we should boldly and unapologetically say that we are or were sick. That we have a brain disorder. The brain is an organ in our physical bodies and there is an imbalance in the chemicals and therefore it’s functioning. The problem is not some abstract condition that we cannot identify. It is a direct result of our brain chemistry, it’s that simple. It is not up for debate. We are sick. Just as a cancer patient is sick and has a physical illness, one of our organs is not functioning properly so we are sick. That’s it.

The fact that the personality is formed by activity in the brain makes it very obvious that if there is an imbalance, and therefore a disruption, in brain function it only makes sense that the personality would be affected. The personality is not a choice. The fact that a person is suffering from extreme irritability during a depressive or manic state does not mean that they are an irritable person. The personality is not the self, in my opinion. The self is our bodies and the personality is a function of that body. We cannot chose it.

Additionally, our brains create and recreate connections all the time. The creation and recreation of the connections, how the brain is “wired”, is affected by our environment. I believe that the environment can contribute to mental illness insofar as a propensity for mental illness exists. It has been shown that some people who have the predisposition of mental illness may or may not develop such, and that outside stimuli, such as trauma or abuse, can trigger the illness. That is not to say that the person is not really sick and that the person can choose to get over the trauma and move on, back to not having a mental illness. They have a mental illness. Someone might have the propensity to develop a certain type of cancer but never become sick, while someone else in the same situation might participate in a lifestyle that increases their chances of developing the illness. That doesn’t mean, that if latter develops cancer,that the cancer isn’t legitimate. The brain is affected by intangible stimuli. Stress might result in stomach aches and headaches or worse, and it can also trigger a disorder in brain function. Mental illness is nothing more than physical illness, it just has a different manifestation. Sick is sick.

Honestly, until we stop trying to change other peoples’ opinions or impressions of mental illness, and start talking boldly, confidently and unashamedly about our illness just as though we have any other illness, I doubt the problem of stigma is going anywhere very quickly. If we own it, speak openly about it, and expect others to accept it like they accept any other serious illness, then eventually they will.

 

Awareness, Bipolar, Information and Resources, Shared, Social Media, Stigma, Video

The Stigma Fighters | Fighting The Stigma Of Mental Illness One Story At A Time

cropped-cropped-cropped-Stigma-Fighters-V1Stigma Fighters is a blog series about real people living with mental illness.

The site aims to raise awareness about mental illness. It addresses stigma by creating a platform for people to share their personal stories and experiences battling mental illness. Sharing personal stories from everyday people, doctors, students, teachers, those who haven’t dared share this part of their lives because of the misconceptions, creates a more realistic representation of the face of mental illness. For those of us battling our illness, reading the struggles of others and sharing our own can be healing, and a way to feel less isolated and alone.

Plus, they have T-Shirts!

[…]I wanted to show the world that there are people living with mental illness who are not just homeless or institutionalized. There are those of us who are living within the confines of society.

There are teachers, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, actors, writers all living with mental illness. These are the stories that need to be told; the people who seem to be “regular” or “normal” people but are actually hiding a big secret. They are living with an invisible illness. They are struggling to function like the rest of society.

I’m using my forum to raise awareness for people (like me) who are seemingly “normal” but actually fighting hard to survive.

~ Sarah Fader

Websites                                                Twitter

The Stigma Fighters                          @stigmafighters

The Stigma Fighters Canada          @stigmafightersc

There are two chapters, US and Canada, created by Sarah Fader (of Old School New School Mom)

The Canadian page is managed by the bipolar dynamic duo, Marisa Lancione (Mad Girl’s Lament) and Nicole Lyons (The Lithium Chronicles).


Awareness, Bipolar, Information and Resources, Shared, Social Media, Stigma, Video

Feisty Stigma Fighter Video

This sassy, to-the-point video exposes the reality of not just stigma surrounding mental health, but blatant neglect and unsympathetic treatment of those suffering from mental illness. It’s almost as though when someone is open enough to share their illness, there is still that lack of certainty about the validity of the claim. Like, does she really have depression, or does she just want attention, or is she just dwelling on something for too long. Is she having a pity party? Is she even trying to not be depressed? I still feel as though I will be perceived this way if I share. I am choosing to be open though. I will not allow anyone to make me feel as though I am allowing this to happen, that it is completely in my control. It 100% is not.

Here is the video. Enjoy!

Awareness, Bipolar, Shared, Social Media, Stigma, Stories

Fox Business Commentator Tells Caller That Her Bipolar Disorder Is Imaginary

This is an example of blatant and condescending stigmatization of mental illness.

Fox business commentator tells caller that her bipolar disorder is imaginary.

Click here to listen.
Click here to listen.

It is the most ignorant, uneducated, condescending I’ve actually heard. This guy’s arguments are so flawed that I can’t even…ahhh! Please, you have to listen to this!

Awareness, Bipolar, Information and Resources, Musings, Stigma

Ending The Stigma Of Mental Illness ~ Not Calling It Mental Illness Might Be A Good Start

download (4)It is wonderful to see that there is an increased awareness of and drive to end the stigma associated with mental illness. Bell did a great job with their “Let’s Talk” Campaign, raising $6, 107, 538, 60 toward mental health initiatives! There is more dialogue happening than in the past, and I think that more than ever people are speaking out about their illness, and that even those without a mental illness are speaking out for those suffering. I think that it will continue to grow and through education and dialogue the stigma will become less of a threat to so many suffering.

images (42)If I am totally honest though, I still feel as though I live under the shadow of stigmatization and fear the consequences of sharing my illness with others. I recently wrote a post about a couple of incidents that made it very clear to me that there is a misconception about what mental illness looks like. You can check out the story here.

I have been living with Bipolar 1 for as long as I can remember, although I have only been living with medically treated Bipolar 1 since my diagnosis about 10 years ago. I have come to terms with my illness. Although I have to admit that despite knowing now that my manic and depressive episodes had a medical explanation, and that my condition is stable with proper medical care and medication, I still am not willing to be completely open about my illness. I am very careful about sharing that part of myself.

images (39)The illness has caused me an incredible number of challenges, missed opportunities, loss, has lead to self-destructive behaviour and I have hurt many people that I love. Fortunately, I have had the privilege of working with medical professionals to monitor my medications, I have psychiatric treatment/counselling and I’m learning to recognize symptoms and to make positive lifestyle changes. Thanks to this I live a fairly normal and functional life. Proper treatment allows me to maintain balance and some stability, reducing the number and the intensity of episodes I experience.

images (3)

I have to ask myself though, why are we still differentiating between physical and mental illness? Mental illnesses are a result of brain functioning, and I’m pretty sure the brain is a part of the body. Is it not? Not to mention the fact that symptoms respond to medication, which can in turn allow a person to lead a relatively stable and balanced life.

Maybe we need to rethink the divide. If what is considered to be physical illness is usually diagnosed by definitive tests, is often visible, and is viewed as a legitimate affliction, then mental illness must be something else.

images (49)Unfortunately, differentiating between physical and mental illness gives the impression that mental illness is something different, that it is not an illness of the body and therefore must be a problem of the “mind”. The mind is associated with behaviour, personality, and amongst other things, the ability of one to change or choose their disposition. Maybe the very distinction is perpetuating the stigma. Perhaps the decision to no longer label one type of illness physical and one mental is a necessary beginning step in ending the stigma.

Why do we differentiate between mental and physical illness? Where does this come from? Why does it matter?

There is much debate over the definition of Mental Illness. It is generally accepted that it exists and that it can have serious and an often detrimental impact of the lives of those suffering.

While there is debate over how to define mental illness, it is generally accepted that mental illnesses are real and involve disturbances of thought, experience, and emotion serious enough to cause functional impairment in people, making it more difficult for them to sustain interpersonal relationships and carry on their jobs, and sometimes leading to self-destructive behaviour and even suicide. The most serious mental illnesses, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, major depression, and schizo-affective disorder are often chronic and can cause serious disability.~ SEP

download (2)The mainstream Western view of mental illness has changed with increased knowledge and conceptual sophistication. We have moved past the  less sophisticated, ignorance based view that what we now call mental illness was demon possession, or the result of some other supernatural phenomenon. Could the archaic diagnosis of a spiritual or supernatural cause of mental illness  still be lingering in today’s perception?  What do we mean when we differentiate mental and physical illness? To me that would imply that a mental illness is somehow an illness or disruption in some part of a person that is external to the physical body wouldn’t it? Which in turn would have to mean that we are more than our physical body, and that our mind is something outside of our physical selves.

At this point some of you reading might be thinking “who cares”? Well, being diagnosed with what is called a mental illness as opposed to a physical illness can have serious, life altering consequences. Including employment, issues with insurance and discrimination, to name a few.

There are limitations and difficulty surrounding medical insurance, being qualified to receive care and benefits that someone with a physical illness would receive even though the mental illness is causing comparable limitations. There is fear of informing employers because of concern about jeopardizing a career, even though it would be beneficial for an employer to understand the illness so that he would understand that the employee might need a to step out for a moments or whatever the case may be, rather than not understanding and chalking it up to laziness or incompetence. For example it might be important for a diabetic to inform his or her employer so that there is an understanding and accommodation for certain behaviours and needs related to the illness. It does not feel safe, however, in the case of mental illness.

The reason that the parity debate exists at all is because our institutions (governmental, legal, medical, insurance/financial, etc.) are and have been (for hundreds of years!) invested in the idea that mental disorders (such as depression, psychosis, and anorexia) are somehow fundamentally different (less real, more the fault of the victim/patient, and less deserving of support) than physical disorders. Though we know today that this view (that mental disorders are different and/or inferior to physical disorders) is false, the legacy of these older prejudiced beliefs still rules:

~Within any given health insurance plan, the coverage for mental disorders is inferior to that provided for physical health concerns.

~Many health insurance providers don’t even underwrite their own mental health coverage, but rather ‘carve it out’ (sub-contract it) to other specialized companies.

~Mental and physical disorders are actually diagnosed using separate diagnostic books. In no other field of medicine (that I’m aware of) is this done! Mental disorders are diagnosed using the “Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (the DSM)”, and physical disorders are diagnosed using the “International Statistical Classification of Diseases and Related Health Problems (the ICD)”. Last I understood, the DSM is also considered a ‘carve-out’ of the ICD in that the DSM (published separately) is considered a code-compatible sub-section of the larger ICD which covers physical disorders.

~While there is stigma involved with all illness, you get stigmatized (discriminated against) by employers and society at large more when you have a mental illness as compared to when you have a physical illness. No one thinks less of you for consulting a physician for diabetes, but they generally will if you consult a psychiatrist for depression.

~ Mark Dombeck, PhDBlurring The Boundary Between Mental and Physical.

download (3)Clearly there are serious consequences in differentiating between physical and mental illness. Sure, there are differences, but there are also differences between illnesses that are both considered physical. Could it be possible that the distinction itself between physical and mental illness is adding to the problem of stigma?

I have been wondering about this for a while, so I thought I would ask the question. I have no training in medicine or psychology but I think it would be safe to say that most medical professionals treat patients based on the assumption that they are physical beings. Where would a “mental illness” originate if not in the brain? The brain is an organ. Why then, is an illness that is the result of improper brain functioning not physical? Hypothyroidism has been associated with Bipolar like symptoms, behavioural symptoms. The malfunction is in the thyroid gland, but is causing “mental/emotional” symptoms. Why is it not a mental illness? How about damage to the brain causing behavioural changes, or any other disorder that is considered a physical illness (like epilepsy, stroke, etc.) that is a result of activity in the brain? Why are those physical illnesses and not mental illnesses?

images (4)In my opinion, I don’t see how any illness that causes symptoms that are shared by millions of people, responds to some variation of the same category of treatments, and that originates in an organ in the body can be anything other than a certain type of physical illness. Illness is illness, and illness occurs in the body. Unless we want to get into arguments about the mind being something outside of or separate from the body, something supernatural, I’m pretty sure most of us would agree that what we call our mind is our brain in action. The mind is the state when the brain is alive and at work. A living functioning brain produces the mind, so mental illness by that definition of mind would be caused by a malfunctioning of the brain, causing symptoms in the mind.

download (22)It is a big question to ask, but I do think that the stigma surrounding mental illness is perpetuated by our continuing to treat mental illness as something different from physical illness. It is all physical illness. They may represent symptomatically different, but they all originate in a part of the (physical) body.

Sources:

Bell Canada (Bell “Let’s talk” campaign)

Seven Counties Services Inc., Blurring The Boundary Between Mental and Physical. By: Mark Dombeck, Ph.D.

American Psychological Association: The roots of mental illness: How much of mental illness can the biology of the brain explain? By Kirsten Weir

Stanford Encyclopaedia of Philosophy: Mental Illness.

 
Awareness, Bipolar, Shared, Stigma

What If People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness?

Have a look at this Blog post, it has a great cartoon illustrating how ridiculous it would look if we treated physical illness they way we treat mental illness…oh I can’t wait to show you, the picture is below….

What If People Treated Physical Illness Like Mental Illness?

(| By )

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Awareness, Bipolar, Information and Resources, Social Media, Stigma, Video

So, what is it that you do?

Hello, nice to meet you! So, what do you do?

Is this innocent small talk or a loaded, anxiety provoking question? Personally I think it can probably be both depending on who you ask. I know I have maybe asked it in passing, not meaning to judge anyone based on the response. I think it is probably a formality that evokes some form of anxiety stemming from perceived expectations surrounding the response. Still, now that I think about it, I think that I will try to be somewhat more creative and personal in how I interact and get to know someone new. I will try to ask questions that help me get to know the personality, uniqueness and personal characteristics of my new acquaintances (maybe friends) in the future.

This video was originally sourced from Upworthy