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.)

Wednesday, August 15, 2012

Strong Woman

One of my dearest friends and I were discussing strong women on a sultry summer night. She was talking about how strong she was, and I echoed her when I matter-of-factly stated that I, also, was a strong woman. She laughed and then she snorted (Yes, snorted) and I was immediately offended to learn she did not consider me to be a woman of strength. I asked her, “Have you ever had someone you love die in your arms?” Very flippantly, she said, “Yeah,” but I knew that wasn’t true…then she added, “I just mean…well…you’re sick.” Those words delivered a crushing blow. Yes, I have a mental illness…I am a rapid-cycling bipolar 1 and I have had to bear the loss, stigma and isolation of my disorder along the way to learning how to manage this unwelcome disruption to my life.. My brother and sisters, who once looked at me with respect, now treat me as though I am a feeble child. That hurts. I was also surprised as I watched close friendships dissolve as my illness exacerbated. I felt betrayed and bereft, but as I became better acquainted with the aspects of my illness, I understood their departure from my life. Unmanaged, bipolar can be a very ugly illness, and, quite frankly, during the early days following my diagnosis, I wasn’t much fun to be around, and as bounced in and out of hospitals, and went through a plethora of drugs that either didn’t work, dumbed me down, or damn-near killed me, my social circle all but disappeared. My successful career was also a casualty of my illness, and to this day I mourn the loss of that. I became highly sensitized to the propagation of misinformation and stereotyping about this disorder. I am so tired and somewhat angry that the media frequently blames bipolar for violence and crime…The only violent behavior or crimes I ever committed during a bipolar episode were directed at myself, and I am fortunate that I survived. One in eight, with this disorder, is successful at ending their life…and many kind, worthwhile, and creative individuals are lost to us. For years I tried desperately to disguise my disfigurement until one day when I realized maybe, just maybe, I might be able to help or educate one person with this disorder, and mustering all the courage in my being, I finally stepped out of the closet and became quite vocal about individuals living with mental illness and its ensuing stigma. I became hopeful that I still had something to offer this world. I educated myself on every facet of the disorder and its treatment. I set up a web page on living with bipolar and began to discuss it openly when initiated by comments or other appropriate impetus. I have tried to live by example to show others I am not to be feared or avoided. Occasionally, I succeed, and that makes all my past suffering slip away a bit… Oh I still remember it, but it serves me well at times…keeps the fire in my belly burning.


As for my strength…as for being a strong woman… I survived a tortuous childhood of physical and emotional abuse at the hands of a man who wanted to decimate my spirit…. The love of my life died in my arms two weeks before Christmas, still I found a way to celebrate the life he lived and was strong enough to stand before 400 people at his memorial and give a very uplifting eulogy. His friends and family laughed, as together, we remembered the very full and good life he lived. I was devastated by the loss of the only real father I had ever known…He was a friend and a mentor and I still miss our long discussions and his wise advice. I still have some manic-depressive episodes, but I now know what I need to do to get through them. In a commentary for NPR, I coined a motto that I frequently use to end my articles: “I have a disorder…It does not define me.” I AM a strong and giving woman and, of course, I can be the funniest person I know. I will not let this illness beat me.





4 comments:

Ann (http://theblergblog.wordpress.com/) said...

You ARE strong. I cannot believe the insensitivity of the comments your "friend" made. I was just recently diagnosed as having Bipolar II after 20 + years of typical misdiagnosis nonsense and medications that did more harm than good. It's bad enough having this illness without ignorant friends and family feeling like they have to tell YOU what it's like.

When I told my sister, one of her first comments to me (my husband was out of town for work at the time) was, "Well, did you call E and tell him that you're a whack-job and that he needs to come home?" This was after she told me that I should let her have custody of my two boys so that she can move them 2 states away from me and put them in school there. Anyway, I'm not leaving this comment to tell you about my crap, as I'm quite strong myself and have things under control. I just wanted to tell you (again) that I agree with you. You are strong. And thank you for blogging. I've been thinking of starting one, too.

Ann (http://theblergblog.wordpress.com/) said...

You ARE strong. I cannot believe the insensitivity of the comments your "friend" made. I was just recently diagnosed as having Bipolar II after 20 + years of typical misdiagnosis nonsense and medications that did more harm than good. It's bad enough having this illness without ignorant friends and family feeling like they have to tell YOU what it's like.

When I told my sister, one of her first comments to me (my husband was out of town for work at the time) was, "Well, did you call E and tell him that you're a whack-job and that he needs to come home?" This was after she told me that I should let her have custody of my two boys so that she can move them 2 states away from me and put them in school there. Anyway, I'm not leaving this comment to tell you about my crap, as I'm quite strong myself and have things under control. I just wanted to tell you (again) that I agree with you. You are strong. And thank you for blogging. I've been thinking of starting one (again), too.

samartines said...

Hi Ann, I am sorry it has taken me so long to respond to your comments. Many people don't even realize how insensitive some of their actions and comments are, and others just don't have the stamina or the stomach to stand behind a friend with bipolar. It does help to have a network of people that truly understand your illness and can be called on when you need help. One comment that always upsets me is, "Just snap out of it!" It just doesn't work that way, as I know you know. I'd like to talk more sometime. I'm on Facebook (Sheree Beard Martines) or you can email me at samartines@bellsouth.net. Writing about the bipolar experience can be very cathartic. If you haven't read it, I highly recommend reading Kaye Redfield Jamison's book, An Unquiet Mind. Please do let me hear from you. I'm sure we have a lot to share. I am keeping you in my thoughts and wishing you good health and great happiness.
All the best, Sheree Ann Martines

Sheree Ann Martines said...

You go girl. There's a world of wonder out there and with a well-managed disorder and the love and support of the ones who know your illness and stand true with you, anything is still possible.
Sorry it took me two years to respond. Many thanks for your thoughts.