Standing up to Stigma: Let’s Talk about Mental Health

I really wasn’t planning on writing about this topic. I had plans and intentions to post a different article, one that is more surface level and happy-go lucky.

Not today, not tonight.

Tonight I need to talk about something that often lays very heavy on my heart, especially on days where there is more darkness than light. I want to be a voice for all of those who feel abandoned, misunderstood, and ashamed of who they are. Tonight I need to talk about the Mental Health Stigma.

The Mental Health Stigma can be defined as a, “Prejudicial attitude or discriminating behaviour directed towards individual with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given OR a perceived stigma that is internalized by the mental health sufferer.”¹

So what does this really mean?

There are feelings of shame associated with having a psychological illness.

Feelings of misunderstanding.

Feelings of rejection.

Feelings of confusion.

Feelings of frustration.

Feelings of hopelessness.

There are very real and tangible barriers to seeking help. 

Treatment is expensive.

Treatment isn’t covered by most insurance companies.

Treatment isn’t readily available.

Resources are scarce.

It’s inconvenient.

Medications are expensive.

Job are lost and opportunities are missed.

There are devastating consequences associated with lack of treatment for a mental disorder. 

Friendships are strained.

Relationships end.

Families are hurt.

Lives are lost.

In America, 1 in 5 individuals are diagnosed with a psychological illness each year.² However, research suggests that this percentage is probably higher due to under reporting. Not very many people want to make it publicly known that they are seeing a therapist, much less in an in-patient facility. For many, this is a sign of inferiority and weakness. Unfortunately, there is still a common misconception floating around that people who have mental health issues are “making them up”, “being dramatic”, or “should be able to fix it on their own”. I’ve heard a countless number of people say, “Everyone has a bad day every now and then, that’s a part of life. I don’t know why a person can’t just snap out of depression.” If you are interested in hearing more mental health statistics in the U.S. click on this link.

There isn’t one exact cause, however, there are many external and internal triggers that can contribute to a psychiatric disorder, such as inherited genes, stressful environment, abuse, substance abuse, malnutrition, temperament, chemical imbalances in the brain, and personality.³ There are often imbalances in the brain chemistry for people with mental illnesses.

In my experience, I often experience subconscious anxiety in my everyday life for no logical reason. I can’t explain it, I can’t link a direct cause to it, & I can’t try to just “figure it out”.  My doctors have helped me identify external and internal triggers that increase my anxiety, one of them being a lack of serotonin being sent to the parts of my brain that need it most. It’s not fake, it’s not philosophical, it’s a real thing.   

michelle-obama-mental-illness

Even the white house has acknowledged that things need to change, & President Obama recently signed the Mental Health Reform in December, which will bring forth some much needed mental health legislation and reauthorize the funding for existing programs.

 

In March of 2016 I began recovery for anorexia, along with anxiety, depression, & insomnia thrown in the mix. My insurance company doesn’t cover my treatment…there isn’t an option for it. It isn’t just a little 20 dollar co-pay that goes towards an insurance deductible. It’s hundreds of dollars each month, & for many, it is thousands of dollars each year.

I am very, very fortunate that my parents are somehow able to make it work, & that I started to recover relatively quickly, which enabled me to avoid residential treatment or partial-hospitalization.

I am one of the lucky ones.

The thing that most distinguishes psychological illnesses between physiological ones is that the effects of psychological illnesses are often unseen. Sure, some people do present physical symptoms as a consequence of his or her psychological disorder. For many, physical symptoms are absent or are only seen at the beginning of treatment.

The healing process can often be observed physically and tangibly. For example, imagine you just broke your leg. Post-op, you would take time to rest & recover, participate in physical therapy, and gradually walk again. You can see a physical difference the difference in your daily routine and the way that you interact with others on a daily basis.

It is common for friends and family members to stop by and visit after surgery. People would most likely offer to cook dinner for you, bring cards, and send messages of prayer and encouragement your day. In almost every conversation that you had someone would ask you how your leg is holding up, right? You don’t have to explain yourself. People understand if you don’t want to hangout because your crutches have made you exhausted. They are more than willing to accept your apology for canceling plans when your leg has been in pain.

Treatment for a mental illness doesn’t quite work like that. I would argue it is almost the exact opposite.

Mental illnesses are isolating. There isn’t a linear “recovery” process. Emotions come and go just as the seasons to. For me personally, there are different seasons where my anxiety is more prevalent, there are seasons where my depression is more prevalent, and there are both. It’s up and down & there isn’t a clear path to “getting better”.

Friends and family members often don’t rush to your aid to help you because they are uncomfortable or have no clue how to approach you. I am lucky to be very close to my immediate family and my fiancé, who have been by my side since day 1 of recovery. Some people don’t have that.

I do remember that when I published my first blog about my eating disorder, many of my friends reached out to me, however, no one in my family (with the exception of my immediate family) contacted me.

Not one text, e-mail, conversation… nothing. 

For some reason, I don’t think this would be the same case if I was diagnosed with a “life threatening disease” (little do they know that anorexia has the highest mortality rates among all mental illnesses).

Once I became medically stable, I think a lot of people thought that I was 100% recovered and okay. This simply wasn’t the case because mental illnesses can’t be observed from the outside. I think this misunderstanding put a lot of pressure on me to act like everything was going great even when there were still many hard & painful days ahead.

One of the hardest parts about having a mental illness is that people simply don’t understand unless they have walked through it personally or with another person. It can seem impossible to explain to someone that I need to rest because I have had a hard day in recovery. On the outside looking in, no one can fully understand it, and from the inside looking out, I can’t fully explain it.

The thing is, I have learned that I don’t need to fully explain my mental illness to be loved, and other people don’t need to completely understand what I am going through. I simply need to the people around me to show me that they care.

To those who are suffering with a mental illness:

You are not alone, you are not crazy, and you are not without hope. 

It’s okay to feel. 

It’s okay to cry.

You are strong. 

Your journey isn’t without purpose. 

Better care is coming.

Awareness is spreading.

Prevention is growing

The stigma is weakening. 

You are not a label or a disorder. 

You are loved, cherish, adored, chosen, adopted, accepted, and pursued by the creator of the universe. 

I believe in you. 

To friends & family members of an individual with a mental illness:

Listen.

Encourage.

Empathize.

Advocate.

Reach out.

Offer to help.

Forgive easily. 

Try to understand. 

Don’t lose touch. 

Check in.

Show grace.

Love always.

XOXO,

-Emily

References:

  1. Davey, G. C., Ph.D. (2013, August 20). Mental Health & Stigma. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from Psychology Today.
  2. National Alliance for Mental Health, & National Institute of Mental Health. (n.d.). Mental Health Facts in America. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from National Alliance on Mental Illness
  3. Pies, R. W., MD. (2014, April 11). Nuances, Narratives, and the “Chemical Imbalance” Debate. Retrieved January 17, 2017, from Psychiatric Times.

 

 

 

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