Stigmatization of People with Mental Disorders

"Stigmatization of people with mental disorders is manifested by bias, distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger, and/or avoidance. Stigma leads the (public) to avoid people with mental disorders. It reduces access to resources and leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It deters
the public from seeking, and wanting to pay for care. Stigma results in outright discrimination and abuse. More tragically, it deprives people of their dignity and interferes with their full participation in society."

--U.S. Surgeon General Dr. David Satcher (ret.)

Friday, April 26, 2019

May is Mental Health Awareness Month

I have been pretty slack about keeping up with this blog for the past year or so...But, I am back.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month, and is intended to raise awareness about mental health and related issues. Although attitudes appear to be changing around the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, negative attitudes have existed since the late 1940’s, when the first National Mental Health Awareness Week was launched. In the 1960’s, the campaign was extended to an entire month in May. During this month, we are encouraged to take responsibility for preventing mental illness by making positive lifestyle choices in thought and action before problems manifest.

It's also an opportunity to be a vocal advocate about educating others about the aspects of mental health issues which affect one in three Americans. Things have changed somewhat, but the bias and stigma associated with mental health disorders still exists.

Despite that, I no longer hide my disorder from others, regardless of their reactions. If I can help one person truly understand how with proper treatment, people like me, living with bipolar 1, can live totally normal lives and be active and successful participant in society, I've done some good. Some research even shows that people with bipolar disorder tend to be highly creative.

Some of the things I intend to do during Mental Health Month are:
  • Write an op/ed and send it to local, regional, and national media outlets.
  • I hope to do another commentary on NPR.
  • I intend to pepper social media with facts about mental disorders.
What can you do?
  • Much of the same.
  • Educate yourself with facts and issues related to mental health issues.
  • Engage other in conversations about mental health.
  • Get involved with NAMI and other mental health advocacy organizations.
We're making progress, but we need to do more. Don't be afraid to start conversations about the issues. Find ways to get involved.

Here are some great organizations (Although, as for myself, I don't plan to get a tattoo).

7 Mental Health Advocacy Groups Making a Difference

By Kayt Sukel

A few years ago, the World Community Mental Health Movement released a provocative and effective awareness campaign to combat mental health stigma entitled, “You can do it…but you can’t do it alone.”

It’s a great line. Because you know what? You don’t have to fight mental illness alone. In fact, you shouldn’t. Studies show that individuals who have support from friends and family go on to have better health outcomes. It pays to have the right folks by your side while you are managing your care and needs.

While friends and family are important to recovery and stability, there are also a host of care and advocacy groups that can be of great support. So which groups are doing a great job of supporting people struggling with mental illness? Let’s take a look at some of the amazing organizations and campaigns that truly have made a difference.

The Trevor Project. The Academy Award winning short documentary, Trevor, brought to light the mental health issues associated with teens who identify as lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender and questioning youth. The fanfare that followed the Oscar win allowed the film’s creators to found the Trevor Project, a national 24/7 crisis hotline that provides intervention and suicide prevention services to these at-risk groups.

Man Therapy. Let’s face it, it can be hard to talk about depression or other mental health problems when society tells you to be a strong, stoic man. And research shows men do have a tendency to suffer in silence rather than reach out for help when they are struggling. So Man Therapy uses a unique blend of humor and evidence to help men learn how to better talk about their issues—and get the help they need. Check out this episode about yoga to see what I mean.

National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). One of the oldest mental health advocacy groups in the United States, NAMI provides mental health support to millions and leads important awareness campaigns like the #StigmaFree pledge and advocacy and lobbying efforts to help promote mental well-being across the nation.

Brain and Behavior Research Foundation. The Brain and Behavior Research Foundation funds important research projects across the globe to not only better understand the underlying causes of mental health issues and disorders, but also to develop newer, better prevention measures and treatments.

Big White Wall. While some say the Internet is only tearing us apart, some are using digital communication to help provide key support and services to those who may be suffering from mental health issues. Big White Wall is one such endeavor, offering a safe, online support environment guided by trained mental health professionals.

Active Minds. Many individuals have their first brush with mental health problems in late adolescence. And for some, that means navigating care in the college environment. Active Minds has chapters on college campuses across the nation and works to help students reduce stigma surrounding mental health in the university space.

Project Semicolon. A semicolon denotes a pause between two main clauses. What more apt symbol is there for someone who may be struggling with mental health concerns? Project Semicolon encouraged those who may have been diagnosed with a mental health condition to get a small semicolon tattoo (permanent tattoos not required) to raise awareness and reduce stigma as well as to remind those individuals that their diagnosis does not define them as human beings.

Wishing you hope and success on your road. We can do it!

Friday, December 15, 2017

Media Reinforces Stigma

Once again, I am infuriated with the media's role in the discrimination against people living with mental disorders. While watching an episode of Criminal Minds,  the captain of a police agency said, "I wouldn't put too much stock in what she says, she's on mental medication."

That is just one example of the many messages I hear all too often. I am not a serial killer. I am not weak-minded.  My "mental medications" have allowed me to fully function in today's world. One in three Americans are dealing with some kind of mental health issue. Because of the stigma associated with this, many people are unable or do not choose to seek the help necessary.

I want to start a campaign against the media's treatment of this matter,  and to advocate for making help more accessible, but I'm not sure where to begin. I'd appreciate any input on this matter.

Saturday, April 22, 2017

Homeland-Claire Dane's portrayal of bipolar

I have been a big fan of Mandy Patinkin since I first saw him in Barbara Streisand’s picture “Yentle.”

I have followed him through Chicago Hope, Criminal Minds, and most recently in Showtimes series, “Homeland.”  I was intrigued that one of his elite CIA agents,Claire Danes (My So-called Life), suffers from severe bipolar one, as do I. I think the way her disorder is portrayed is so close to home, it hurts me to watch. Her manic episodes are so close to the ones I have suffered, it scrapes the scabs raggedly off the scars that my disorder has carved into me.

As with me, her disorder is well-managed with medications, but she, as with many bipolars, occasionally does not take her medications, feeling that they dumb her down…make her dull and unable to truly focus. In desperation, she even willingly undergoes electro-convulsive therapy. I swore I would never do that, but after years of suffering with no positive response to medications, I said, “Do it.” After 14 treatments, my doctor discontinued the therapy citing that I had suffered cognitive damage that outweighed the benefit.

Life just isn’t fair. Still, I manage my illness. Few would ever guess I am bipolar. I may not be quite as bright and shiny as I used to be. I have to work a little harder these days to keep the train on the track. Next stop is sanity.

Saturday, September 24, 2016

How to Build a Watch...Take Your Meds!!!!

It's been more than 12 years since I was diagnosed as a rapid cycling bipolar 1. In retrospect, it was an illness that had been misdiagnosed for most of my life. As a young child, I lived in terror of man who was determined to snuff out my creative energy and joy. I survived, and no one ever knew about the horrors of my days spent in a dark basement, held captive by the man I thought was my daddy. " No good, worthless, sick!" He died when I was 13, and I can so clearly remember the first time depression paralyzed me. The bright and shiny child was gone...I only remembered his words, " No good, worthless.." Junior high and high school were hell for me...The pain was so intense that I began to hurt myself...I took over the abuse he had dealt out to me for all those years.

Although bipolar is a genetic disorder, it's impact can be accelerated by childhood trauma, and undiagnosed, it exacerbates as you age. When I was 22, I had tried to kill myself one too many times and I was hospitalized for two months with the diagnosis of clinical depression. I left that clinical prison determined to find a way to overcome the self-hatred that haunted me for so many years. I went back to school, graduated with honors, and got a job with a Fortune 500 company making very good money for a 26-year old. Taking antidepressants became as routine as brushing my teeth. For years, I somehow hid the abject sorrow that often pulled me down into a blackness that threatened my ability to function. I was later told by doctors that I had developed  the ability to overcompensate for the demons that threatened me. For more than two decades, I rose through the ranks of non-profit communications and marketing. Somewhere after the love of my life died in my arms, I began to lose the battle with that unnamed demon.

I had no idea what was wrong with me...I couldn't control the violent rages that contorted me. I began to drink heavily, grateful for the numbness it gave me. I began to lose my ability to function on a sustained basis, and my successful career slowly slipped out of my hands. I quit drinking and went to AA meetings two or three times a day. Despite my efforts, I wasn't getting any better, and I was referred to a new doctor. After talking with me for less than 10 minutes he asked me if I had ever been tested for bipolar, known by most at that time, as manic-depression. I thought it strange when he, almost gleefully, said, "You're not an alcoholic; you're bipolar."

I was suddenly at a new starting line, still it took another five years to find the right combination of drugs that would finally allow me to start living fully again. Those years were not very pretty, and the friends began to fall by the wayside. I do not blame them. My life hung by a tenuous thread...I almost didn't make it...but then I did. I learned the medications that became a part of my life, actually protected my life.

This is a long story that is finally meandering to the point. Many individuals with bipolar disorder quit taking their meds when they start feeling better. As I often was, in those early days, they are seduced by the incredible euphoria that initiates the first few days of mania. They succumb to the meteoric moments that will always end in sorrow and devastating pain. It's not worth it, I assure you.

I'm not crazy about being on an array of powerful drugs. They subdue me, dull me down, and slow my metabolism to a crawl, but they have also allowed me to rejoin the world of the living...Some days, I even forget I am bipolar. Sometimes, I still feel the pull of depression...Sometimes, I don't want to sleep, so tempted to fly across the skies...I have to resist, and I HAVE to take those meds.

I know you only asked what time it is, and I have belabored how to build a watch. Bottom line is, take your meds. If they aren't helping you, keep working with your doctor until you find the perfect "cocktail" for your disorder. Educate yourself about what you are taking and why. Be sure to know the side-effects. I almost died from the side-effects of one drug. Mostly, don't give up. It's not unusual for it to take years to find the right combination of meds. Hang TOUGH...It's worth it when you reach the other side!

(It's 10:49 p.m.)

Thursday, July 14, 2016

Living with Bipolar Disorder: Brain Disorder Blame-True Crime

Living with Bipolar Disorder: Brain Disorder Blame-True Crime: Anyone that knows me, knows I am interested in true crime. I used to consider myself an ID addict, but not so much anymore. More and more, b...

Brain Disorder Blame-True Crime

Anyone that knows me, knows I am interested in true crime. I used to consider myself an ID addict, but not so much anymore. More and more, bipolar is blamed for all kinds of criminal activity. I got NO breaks, compassion, no forgiveness for any of the shameful things I did before I was diagnosed as a rapid cycling, bipolar 1. Of course, I never did anything illegal, and the only person that truly suffered at my hands, was me. Yes, friends ran like rats when the basement light goes on, when my undiagnosed brain disorder got ugly...AND it DID get ugly. It didn't take long for most of my friends to retreat back into their sane worlds. And though I often begged, no one felt comfortable offering me shelter from the storm. That hurt.

Still once I was correctly diagnosed, I was determined to regain control over my life. That was much harder than one might think. I was diagnosed by one of the leading bipolar specialists in the country as one of the worst cases of bipolar one, compounded by treatment resistance, PTSD, severe panic disorder, and agoraphobia. Lithium, the heralded cure for bipolar, poisoned me. I almost drove my car into a brick wall while on lithium.

More than a decade has passed, and my doctors have developed a treatment plan that allows me to manage my brain disorder...Not completely, there are still dark lows and frenetic highs...not so often and when they occur I know how to react.

But I swear to GOD, if I hear one more thief, cheat, sex offender, or murderer blame their acts on being bipolar, I might actually go POSTAL!!!! (and blame it on my severe disorder.) No wonder the crowd disperses when you bring up bipolar...It's a stigma that will always be challenging for those of us who have taken responsibility for managing depression and mania, and have gone on to give something back to this world regardless of what it may have taken from us.

I feel like a lone warrior.

Monday, March 14, 2016


Do they sense when you are no longer safe…

when you’re holding it together with staples and tape.

A smile on your face must erase any evidence of your insanity.

You try so hard to conform to the person they think you should be.

The clock is tick-ticking away.

Short are the hours left in this day.

And in your heart filled with sorrow,

you have little hope to see tomorrow.

Still the sun bleeds into a morning sky,

another chance to once again fly.

So you’ll do it again and try to get it right,

hoping to find a shore for one more holy night.

The truth ricochets around your brain,

Not over yet, you can do it again.