The self-imposed mental illness stigma
The too frequently used quip, “Call me crazy but..” may seem like a clever way of sorting one’s way through a confusing moment, but if we look a little closer, it’s really an innocuous slam to one’s self image, particularly if we’ve been diagnosed with any form of mild to serious mental illness. We are unconsciously and unnecessarily stigmatizing ourselves.
Since I was diagnosed with Treatment Resistant Major Depressive Disorder and have “gone public”, I’m keenly aware of others’ perceptions of me. I often wonder if they are secretly thinking, “She might go off the rails again. She lost it before, she could lose it again at any moment.” Even those who love and appreciate me for all my non-mental and wonderful attributes may have second thoughts about me. I almost can’t blame them, especially when I think of my own shame and unconscious prejudices about mental illness that I’m now striving to correct.
Let’s face it—people worry about others whose behavior can be unpredictable if they’ve neglected their “meds”. They flinch at the thought of becoming embroiled in a dramatic or manic episode with someone who’s suffering with a mental illness. There’s a palpable mistrust that has reached as high as our own Federal government when it has come to voting for a candidate with a history of mental distress. Senator Thomas Eagleton was forced to withdraw from the 1972 presidential campaign as a vice-presidential candidate over concerns that his past ECT treatments and psychiatric hospitalization would detract from the party platform.
Because our society’s insistence that mental illness is in a disability class of its own, the stigma is perhaps subtler now, but it is undeniably real and painfully persistent. Thanks to organizations like Bring Change 2 Mind (http://www.bringchange2mind.org) and proponents for public awareness and healthcare funding for mental illness such as former U.S. Representative Patrick Kennedy, this knee-jerk stigmatization is shifting.
My age is a factor that precludes me from resuming a career such as I had in advertising before I “broke apart” with my illness four years ago when I tried to kill myself. But more important, I’m realistic enough to anticipate that anyone in the business who knows of my condition will no doubt think twice about hiring me. It’s all about the stigma. And because of that stigma, the world must be willing to open it’s own “normal” mind to accept those with mental illness as a physical disability that must be treated like any other—with medicines, therapy, compassion, patience, and vigilance.
My mom raised me with the philosophy, “Charity begins at home.” So I’m trying to be more charitable with myself by noticing when I inject that not-so-cute little “Call me crazy but..” into, “I could’ve sworn I put my keys down on the counter,” or, “I thought I just paid that bill!”
I’m not crazy and I don’t want anyone else to call me crazy either. I’m just a human being with a brain that sometimes needs medical attention.
© 2013 by Martha Rhodes. All Rights Reserved, Cover Photography by Paul McGuirk and Megan Lane.
The events described in this memoir are true. Some names have been replaced by pseudonyms in order to protect privacy, particularly those of medical personnel. This book is intended to reflect the life experiences of the author and in no way should it be considered to be medical advice, recommendations for treatment, or a replacement for medical care given by physicians or trained medical personnel. The author refers to and thereby endorses NeuroStar TMS Therapy® in this book because it was the only FDA-cleared transcranial magnetic therapy device available at the time of treatment and is an integral part of her story. This is by no means a promotional or advertising vehicle for NeuroStar TMS Therapy® nor does the author have any financial ties to Neuronetics, Inc.