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I have dealt with the way people change their attitudes toward me when they find out I’m mentally ill all my life. Hospitalized for the first time at 14; I became aware of the stigma early. Once I came back to high school everyone looked at me differently. The first thing to pop into my mind is that your first reaction to this revelation is to think that it was probably projection. I assure you it wasn’t. Students backed off even some friends avoided me. And that was just the beginning. During the thirty some odd years since I’ve noticed reactions from pity to disgust. From not taking me seriously to just plain ignoring me. Don’t get me wrong. I have plenty of friends who have gotten to know me past the mental illness and treat me well.
Even among the medical professionals there is a certain sense that the mentally ill are less than normal people. Medical professionals are quick to assume that unusual complaints are psychosomatic. I once spent three weeks in a psych facility for seizures. It later turned out they were due to a severe vitamin B12 deficiency. Because I was taking psych meds the hospital never tested me for possible causes they simply assumed I was “misbehaving”. There are even psychological professionals who labor under the idea that the mentally ill are fundamentally different. We aren’t!
I am not my mental illness. I am an intelligent human being who has a mental illness. The difference may seem like semantics, however it is not. When you make the mistake of putting the mental illness before the humanity it undermines the person’s individuality and even in extreme circumstances the person’s right to basic liberties. I have been “arrested” and brought to hospitals for reasons as simple as sitting on a curb too near a closed school.
- The mentally ill are violent. Most of us aren’t any more likely to be violent than “normal” people. Unmanaged mental illness can lead to difficulty controlling one’s temper but most often not. Simply being mentally ill does not make someone a threat.
- The mentally ill can’t make decisions for themselves. We know what we want and need most of the time.
- Depressed people are lazy. Depression brings on a sort of mental paralysis, making it nearly impossible to get out of bed. Let alone do anything productive.
- People can just snap out of depession if they had the will-power. Trust me when I say we really wish that were true and most of us try. Real clinical depression is not a mood. It is a chemical imbalance that requires medication and recovery.
- Bi-polar (manic-depressive) people never have “middle of the road” or “normal” days. Just like everyone else Bi-polar people have a wide range of days. Some days (even weeks) are fairly normal. It is not a lack of balance that defines Bi-polar but periods of extreme mood that last longer than usual.
Comment with your own myths or misconceptions. Feel free to ask questions.