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Mental Illness Stigma Article

Mental Illness 

Many doctors treat people with disdain, who are mentally ill.  They disrespect the patient and they imply that you can control your behaviors, and they expect that you will. 

When you are mentally ill, you cannot help reacting badly in some situations, because your brain doesn’t work properly.  You may get angry, or act passive/aggressive.  You may run away and hide.  You may confront the situation head on and go on the defensive. 

Doctors will laugh you off and tell you that you need an attitude adjustment, when you have been justifiably angry.  Or they will tell you to just get over it.  The stigma stops many from seeking treatment.  One slip of the tongue by a relative or a medical professional can send a mentally ill person into a depression or an anxiety attack.  Bringing on a suicide attempt, of which they may be successful.  Then they are lost forever.  Or they may take it out on their family.  The reaction may manifest it’s self in the form of a manic episode.  It can send you into a tail spin.  The emotional turmoil can affect the mentally ill person very adversely.      

Sometimes you aren’t aware of what you are doing.  Manic episodes can happen on a regular basis if your situation is unstable.  This goes to show that this is an ongoing disease. And, it does get worse with age. It is controllable, but you may have set backs from time to time. 

These family members, doctors, and reactions by co-workers and friends only hinder the progress of a mentally ill person.  They think they are trying to help sometimes, other times it seems as though they are just being mean and spiteful.

So, even we (the mentally ill patients) are not immune to feelings of the stigma.  We react to what we encounter in life.  If you have a mental illness, it only makes matters worse.

Living with the stigma makes you feel like you don’t belong anywhere.  It feels like everyone is judging you.  It feels like you have to adhere to the demands of friends, medical professionals and especially familial relations.  It makes you feel as though you have nowhere to turn.

My nephew got married recently; I offered to help with the wedding planning.  My sister thought it would be too much for me so she found excuses to not let me help.  This is an example of the stigma reaching the familial arena.  I didn’t get to help.  I wanted to very badly, but she didn’t feel I was up to it.  When it should have been me who decided if it was too much for me or not. 

The stigma can be your downfall if you let it.  My family handles me with kid gloves.   I am an embarrassment to them for the most part because of my mental illness.  It hurts me that they have to live with me in their lives. I wish I could just run away from it all.  But I have to stay because all my doctors are here.  They have gone through this mental illness with me for many years.  I don’t know what a new set of doctors would think of my illness and how they would treat me.  So I’m staying where I’m at for the time being.

The stigma holds you back, embarrasses you, and makes it difficult to be honest with health care professionals.  I wish it wasn’t this way, but it is.  People just don’t understand.  This article is to inform those who live in the stigma mindset that we do not want to be this way, and please just understand that it is an illness.  We can’t help our actions sometimes.  We do not do things on purpose.  Sometimes we are pushed to do things.  Sometimes our thinking is so obscure that we can’t make sense when we try to.  Sometimes we act like a regular person and other times we act in ways that the people around us do not recognize us. 

The stigma can send you into a deep depression, bringing on a suicide attempt, or if you have had others in the past, it can bring on another attempt.  I always felt like no one would want me, because of the way I am and I have been proven right.  When a man shows and interest in me, and I tell him of my illnesses, they usually run away as fast as they can.  This hurts me deeply.    No one wants me.  So I have learned to live without a man in my life, mostly due to the stigma of mental illness.

I realized finally that I am lonely.  It is a very lonely illness.  Because of the stigma, people do not want to be around you.  The stigma can also, promote the mentally ill into keeping a lot of secrets. Secrets are never good in relationships, family, or between friends.  That friendship ended shortly after one of my episodes.  She didn’t have the tools, in her mind set to deal with a mentally ill friend.  So she ended it.

This is but a few examples of what I have gone through due to the stigma of mental illness. There really is nothing that you can do.  So I am alone and have to get used to it.  I probably won’t find another man who will understand, and treat me with respect. The men that I meet are only after one thing.  And, I don’t put out so I will probably be alone for the rest of my life.  It’s not what I would choose if I had a choice. But none the less, this is my life. 

So, the next time you get to feeling like you are caught in the middle of the stigma, no you’re not imagining it.  The next time a medical professional dismisses you, you are not alone.  The next time your spouse treats you disrespectfully, it’s their misunderstanding of the mental illness, and maybe yours too. It’s a thing that has so much bad attached to it.  Other people just don’t understand.

I would wish that if you get into a situation that you feel discriminated against, report it. At the very least.  To the medical board, to the dental board, to anyone who will listen.  At some point there has to be some vindication to these illnesses.  We are not freaks!  People need to understand that we cannot help it and we do not want to be this way. 

It can be from anyone. As I have said before.  And the bad thing is I truly believe that they don’t feel that they are doing anything wrong.  At one point in time people with cancer were treated like lepers.  There was also a time when the AIDS virus was stigmatized.  Just the same as those illnesses have finally gotten recognition, we the mentally ill will finally get some respect in the real world at some point in time.  We must demand respect if we expect to get respect.

After all, it is an illness.  More and more people are being diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder these days.  Some may say that it is being over diagnosed. Many illnesses have gone through the same scrutiny; until it was proven that they were simply illnesses.  We will gain respect eventually.  It will just take time and our standing up for us.  

So if you face a stigma because of your illness, speak up about it.  Don’t just sit back and take it.  It is not something you can help.  So make it clear that you are under a doctor’s care and that you are aware of your actions and please tell them nicely that this kind of behavior too, is unacceptable.

 By Andrea McKinney  

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