Mental Health Stigma

Why is the public-at-large so adverse to people with mental illness?  Perhaps because of the darker side of humanity.  Some heinous crimes are committed by people who are mentally ill.  Those individuals are but a spec of dust in the overall population of people with mental illness, yet they get the most publicity due to their deeds.  It is time to change the perception.

Mental illness is an overall name for 4 major syndromes:  Bi-Polar Disorder, Schizophrenia, Autism and Personality Disorders.  There are many spectrums to each of these major syndromes, and these syndromes overlap with each other.  Some are common amongst family members, while others are an unlucky parental lottery of DNA.  Mental illness is not a choice.  It is caused by an imbalance of naturally existing chemicals and hormones in the brain. Sometimes it is situational (ie: extreme stress will cause a chemical imbalance in the brain.  When the stress is relieved, the brain will go back to normal function), but most of the time it is continual.

With the recent increase in entertainment personalities committing suicide, I think it is important that the dialogue start.  I believe the best people to start this discussion are those who are afflicted. 

Bi-Polar disorder runs in my family.  This spectrum also includes depression.  All my family members have depression.  A few of us have Bi-Polar disorder.  When people hear Bi-Polar, they immediately think of the hyper-mania.  There are also some episodes of deep lows.  The highest of highs and the lowest of lows.  Bi-Polar II has fewer manic episodes, and longer lasting depressive episodes.  Bi-Polar II episodes are not as severe as Bi-Polar I.   I have been diagnosed with Bi-Polar II. 

My manic episodes evolve into OCD cleaning sprees.  Serious sprees of cleaning.  One time I was up for 3 days and nights, every single item in my house came out of cupboards and shelves.  Every item was washed.  All the cabinets and drawers are cleaned, then items placed back into their space with precise orderliness.  All my furniture gets moved, dusted, washed, floors swept and mopped then the furniture goes back (or gets a re-organization.)  Sleep escapes me during these episodes.  My manic episodes happen every few months. 

My struggle is with the depressive episodes.  I don’t sit in a corner and cry.  I don’t feel sorry for myself.  I do not contemplate hurting myself or others.  I call it my hibernation.  I have a serious social phobia.  (Phobias also are on the spectrum of Mental Illness).  I have a strong aversion to socializing.  Socializing of any sort.  One person, or a group of people.  It does not matter.  I will spend days inside my house (thankful that I had that recent manic episode!), and not leave.  There are many days that I do not want to go outside into my yard.  I am thankful that I have dogs- they somewhat force me to get out, even if it is to clean up their daily doody.  I am quite comfortable and not unhappy during these periods.  I am just anti-social.  I exist. 

My friends and children are all aware of this mental illness because I feel strongly about wiping out the stigma.  My circle of support exists because I am not afraid to educate people of my situation.  I do not feel ashamed.  I do not want pity.  I do not want sympathy.  I want understanding.  Mostly, I want people to understand that mental illness is not a choice.  Do not think that if we force ourselves to smile that happiness will follow.  That certainly did not work for the late Robin Williams. 

While some people who do criminal acts may have a mental illness, not all people with mental illness do criminal acts.  In large, we are not bad people.  We are people who want to be accepted, not ignored.