My Experience with Stigma
“People have a hard time separating character from disease” -Corey W.
When I decided to publish 49 random writings of mine in what became “Midnight Ramblings on an iPhone” and subsequently put up a website and now this Facebook page, the goal was always the same; to fight mental health stigma.
I work in an industry where all of the people I work with have a mental health diagnosis as well as a good portion of the staff, so I am used to being around those that suffer from mental health issues. It is not until I go out into the community, or even talk to my own loved ones that I witness the preconceived notions that people have about individuals that experience mental health issues. I hear fear, hostility, ignorance and most of all, lack of empathy.
A good example of mental health stigma is my own father. I have not spoken to my father or anyone in his new family for almost two years (big relief), so I will have to attest to what it was like when I was talking to him.
I would join my father for a dinner that he would throw monthly for all of his friends, and I got along with all of them splendidly. My father, however, with no mental health training, felt it was his duty to assess me and judge the people I work with. If I laughed to hard or talked to loud, he would suggest that maybe I needed to have my medications examined. My doctor was one of the most renowned psychiatrist in our town, and he told me on many occasions that I was his success story and how proud he was of me. I would imagine that a Distinguished Fellow of the American Psychiatric Association, Medical Director of the Regional Center and County and City Crisis Center as well as a practicing psychiatrist of his own private practice of several decades would have a better idea of if my medications were okay than my father, who has no psychiatric or mental health training.
My father also trash talked the individuals I worked with at his parties, making a spectacle of them without them even being there, with little to no information driving what statements he made about them.
These are prime examples of how mental health stigma is perpetuated in today’s society, which is supposedly more accepting and supporting than ever. Not to mention this was my own father making these comments, who was supposed to be supportive of me, no matter what vocation I choose or what struggles I have in life. If he was quick to make jokes about the people I fought for day in and day out, and make snap judgements about me based off of no experience or education, imagine the rest of society.
Also, my father is an extremely intelligent, well educated man. If he fell prey to the quick and easy humor of making fun of the mental health population, think of those out there that are less educated, or have malice in their hearts.
The topic of mental health stigma was broached at my work on Monday while I was busy with another task, but I could not help but hear an amazing, concise quote by an individual, Corey W. (Who asked me to use his name, he would like the credit for the quote). As I was working I heard Corey say,
“People have a hard time separating character from disease.”
I thought this was incredible and immediately wrote it down and asked him if I could use it. Think back to when I talked about my father. I would be having a good time and would be laughing harder than maybe he would, he immediately equated that to mania.
People that live with mental health diagnoses can in fact live symptom free lives. They can also live lives that some of their personality traits are parallel to that of some of the symptoms of their mental health diagnosis. I have days where I am much happier or much less happy, this does not mean that I am going through a manic spell or depression. To feel is human, and to express ourselves makes us unique.