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.)

Saturday, January 30, 2016

Dr. Oz: Charlie Sheen Interview/Bipolar Disorder

While eating my lunch the other day, I flipped on the TV. Before I could change the channel, I heard Dr. Oz talking with Charlie Sheen about mania and depression. It was sheer coincidence...I have never watched that program before, but the mention of bipolar traits stopped me in my tracks. I put the remote down.  After battling the demons of depression and mania for most of my life, I was finally correctly diagnosed with bipolar disorder in my late forties. For decades I had hidden the extremes of this illness, at times even relishing some of the deceptive euphoria and creative energy infused into my brain and body at the onset of manic periods. But untreated, bipolar disorder exacerbates with age and each period of depression and mania becomes more and more destructive. I had watched the foundation of my life crumble away.

As I listened to the conversation between Dr. Oz and Sheen, I was reminded that there still exists a vast lack of knowledge about this disorder, as well as other mental illnesses. Sadly, I also had to acknowledge that there is still a great amount of stigma associated with mental illness. Many good and creative people are avoided, ostracized, and isolated. Much worse, many never receive treatment that could allow them to manage the illness and go on to live happy and productive lives. Tragically, many suffering from this disorder do not survive, succumbing to a death of their own design.

Even after diagnosis, it takes time—sometimes years to find the right combinations of medication to bridle the extremes of bipolarity. It took more than five years before doctors finally found a combination of drugs that worked for me. I almost did not survive to reach that point. In addition to proper medication, I had to make many changes in my life. I had to accept that my life would never be the same; that I would probably never again burn with the same brilliance I had once known. Cognitively, I would be changed. I would never again fly as high or as far. Casualties of this illness included a successful career, many long-term relationships, my ability to focus, and the way many people, including members of my family, perceived me.

As I listened to the discussion between Dr. Oz and Charlie Sheen, I watched Charlie’s eyes grow wide as Oz listed aspects of mania. I could see Charlie begin to recognize some of the patterns in his own life. He sat silent with a furrowed brow and intense eyes, taking in the information. I saw a slow realization begin to register as he listened.  Knowing what you are up against is the first step of a long journey.

Charlie and I, along with more than 10 million Americans, will always be bipolar. In addition to adhering to our meds, we must play an active role in reaching a more level ground. Also, we all must raise our voices to take back our lives. We must face the stigma with courage and strive to educate others. A broader awareness and understanding is absolutely vital to opening doors and creating access to help for those at war with this disorder.

I remain hopeful.

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