After stepping out of the closet some five years ago, most of you who know me, know that I have struggled with bipolar disorder most of my life. Yes, I have a mental illness. For years I hid my disorder from the world and somehow learned to compensate, and enjoyed a successful career for more than two decades. Untreated, bipolar disorder exacerbates over time, slowly decimating a person's ability to function on a sustained basis, and my well-loved career and many close relationships became casualties of my illness.
As my undiagnosed illness grew worse, and I became well-acquainted with the stigma associated with mental illness. It took more than five years, but I finally found the help I needed and a medical plan that allowed me to begin to successfully manage my illness. I have rejoined the world and now live a happy and productive life.
Despite efforts to educate and improve access to mental health resources, individuals with mental illness go without treatment and face discrimination that impedes their ability to live fully. Suicide claims the lives of one in eight.
The media continues to carelessly malign mental illnesses and it angers and saddens me. I have become a passionate advocate about mental health issues, hopeful that I might encourage someone seek help, or in some way, reduce the stigma faced by those living in the shadows of mental illness.
Former U.S. Surgeon General, David Satcher said it so poignantly:
"Stigmatization of people with mental disorders is manifested by bias, distrust, stereotyping, fear, embarrassment, anger, and avoidance...Stigma reduces access to resources and leads to low self-esteem, isolation, and hopelessness. It results in outright discrimination, and more tragically deprives people of their dignity, and interferes with their full participation in society."
May is Mental Health Month and I ask that you take a moment to access some of the information available on mental illness. Armed with knowledge and understanding, you might just be the one to save or positively change a life.
I am hopeful.