Saturday, October 19, 2013

What It's Like to Live With Stigma Everyday

Living life with a mental illness comes with a variety of day to day challenges that many may not realize. Every day those of us living with a mental illness deal with things such as the symptoms of our mental illness, finding and taking the right medications to treat our illness (in many cases, finding the perfect mixture of multiple different medications), the visits to the doctor for medication management, the numerous side effects caused by the medications we take, the necessary blood draws to monitor medication levels and vital organ functions affected by the medications, other various issues we develop as a result of the medications (i.e. insomnia, long term weight gain, hypothyroidism, etc.), the long term outcomes from the various bad decisions we have made as a result of the illness- including poor financial decisions and relationship problems. The list could go on, but you get the point.

Just in case, we didn't already have our hands full enough with the many concerns that innately come along with having a mental illness, society has made certain to tack stigma onto this list. With stigma comes a number of serious, negative effects on a daily basis to those of us living with a mental illness. Yes, I did say daily; and no, most of us don’t directly encounter blatant stigma every single day. However, the effects of the societal stigma placed on individuals living with a mental illness is something we carry with us everyday even when not directly faced with the stigma. Stigma has a negative effect on our interactions with others and more importantly, it negatively affects how we view ourselves throughout life. Often times, individuals affected by stigma don’t even realize the negative effect it has on them, even though they are carrying it with them at all times. I personally, don’t walk around every day thinking about the role stigma plays in my life daily; that would  be extremely counterproductive. I do, however, believe that it is important to have an overall awareness of this for ourselves as well as for the purpose of educating others.
What role does stigma play in the lives of individuals living with a mental illness?

Because of stigma individuals living with a mental illness experience:

  • The loss of friends and sometimes even family members due to the symptoms of their illness.
  • Lowered self-esteem as a result of the stigma surrounding their illness.
  • An ongoing sense of shame and rejection.
  • Feelings of inadequacy.
  • Feelings of needing to hide his/her mental illness and therefore a part of him/herself.
  • A fear of the loss of one's job if it is found out he/she has a mental illness
  • An inability to obtain private health insurance coverage as a result of having a pre-existing condition (which is thankfully coming to an end with the ACA).
  • Self-blame for having the illness and any hardships it has caused.
  • An attachment of an individual's entire identity to one's mental illness.
  • A resistance to seeking help to treat his/her mental illness due to fear of how others will view him/her.
  • A negative outlook on the future.
  • The feeling of being dismissed by others because we have a mental illness.

This is just to name a few, this list could go on for days.

I personally have encountered many conversations, either that I have been involved in or have overheard, that have stigmatized individuals living with a mental illness. I hear people say things like, “oh, everyone’s a little bipolar” or “she’s so bipolar because she can't make up her mind” or “they're just crazy, they should just throw them in the nut house” or “they should just go kill themselves, they're never happy anyway” or “did you see that crazy person out there talking to themselves? They shouldn't be allowed on the streets.” That doesn't even begin to list the things I've heard but you all get the point. It hurts to hear those things, it’s infuriating to hear those things, and most importantly it breaks away at the self-esteem of individuals living with a mental illness each and every time negative comments like those are said to the individual, heard in the media, or overheard in a conversation.

Living with the stigma of having a mental illness is like walking around with a scarlet letter on your chest. The best way to fight stigma is to stand up, speak out, and educate others about what mental illness really is!

Thank you for reading! Until next time...
Sara Breidenstein
Kissing Stigma Goodbye 

1 comment:

Karen Greenberg said...

I can only imagine how much it hurts to hear the comments like the ones you listed here. My husband has bipolar disorder, and it is hard to hear people talk like this. It makes me very angry. I don't have to deal with the same feelings of inadequacy and blame that he does, but I have heard things like, "Why do you stay with someone like that?" It makes me wonder sometimes if people think I have settled or couldn't get a "better man." Just for the record, he IS perfect to me, even during our incredibly rough times.