Tuesday, September 17, 2013

This is the article that I wrote for the NAMI Maryland Quarterly Newsletter

My Break Free From Stigma
By Sara Breidenstein

Stigma: defined by Webster's dictionary as a mark of shame or discredit.

The burdening stigma that society places on individuals living with a mental illness is real and it can come with a variety of negative consequences for the individuals that it impacts. Individuals living with a mental illness face this stigma every day in one form or another and it can be extremely detrimental to their mental health along with their overall well-being.

Stigma drives individuals living with a mental illness to live in silence, shame and fear. Stigma steers individuals away from receiving the treatment that they need due to shame and embarrassment.

Realistically speaking, no one should ever feel shamed or at fault for having a mental illness. Additionally, no one should feel scared or ashamed to receive treatment for their mental illness. Stigma is extremely hurtful and damaging to individuals living with a mental illness and can have long term effects on individuals.

I personally have been living with a mental illness for 13 years. I was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder at the age of 15. I have faced stigma first-hand a number of times over the years. As a result of
stigma, I have historically found myself to be extremely ashamed of the fact that I have a mental illness. I never told anyone that I have Bipolar Disorder unless I absolutely had to. It even steered me from receiving the best possible treatment for my illness.

For so many years I had not been completely honest with my psychiatrist for fear of being judged and I was therefore not receiving the necessary medications to treat all of my symptoms.

I finally began to break free from the stigma in the very beginning of 2012, after living with Bipolar for 12 years. During the prior months, I had experienced an onset of psychotic symptoms during an already extremely stressful time in my life. I allowed myself to go through this alone instead of engaging my friends and family for help or even just to lend me an ear.

After finally opening up fully to my psychiatrist and coming through this rough patch in my life, I realized that no one should ever have to deal with their mental illness alone and nobody should ever feel scared to
discuss their symptoms with their psychiatrist. As a society, we would not expect an individual with cancer to go through it alone and the same should go for individuals living with a mental illness. After this
experience, I spent time processing the fact that I had allowed myself to go through a time of extreme need in my life, alone.

No one should feel alone in their mental illness. I thought about what I could do personally about this issue and then acted on those ideas.

First, I started a blog. The purpose of this blog is to fight stigma, raise awareness of mental illness and provide individuals with a mental illness and their families a sense of belonging and encouragement.

Second, I started a subsequent Facebook page with the same purpose as the blog.

Third, I stood up and said “I have Bipolar Disorder and I am no different than you.” I did this personally among my friends and loved ones and I did it publicly by telling my story on my blog, on my Facebook page and through various other means.

Finally, I joined NAMI and I signed up for the 2012 Maryland NAMIWalks which took place last May. Last year's walk was the first of many for me. I plan to continue to participate in this walk every year for many years to come. The walk in Baltimore last year, was such an amazing and inspiring experience. It was truly inspirational and heartwarming to witness so many individuals and or-ganizations from different walks of life gathered together in the same place to show support for the cause, raise awareness of mental illness and fight the stigma of mental illness. I felt very proud to have been able to take part and I look forward to participating in the walk again this year.

As an individual living with a mental illness, fighting the stigma attached to mental illness is a huge passion of mine. It is something that I hold near and dear to my heart. NAMI Maryland and local affiliates hold the same passion and they have shown much dedication to this cause through many different efforts, including the annual Maryland NAMIWalks!

I encourage you to join NAMI Maryland in the walk this year in Baltimore on May 18th at the Inner Harbor!
I hope to see you there! To sign up to join me in walking or to make a donation, visit this link, every dollar counts!

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