A Mental Health Stigma is a topic that is near and dear to my heart. When I wrote my thesis I wrote about Restructuring the Mental Health System to decrease stigmatization for those with Severe and Persistent Mental Illness.
Mental health stigma can be identified as labeling those with Mental illness by their diagnosis rather than identification with real life and personality traits. Stigma can be delivered by media, healthcare, friends, relatives, and including Mental health clinicians. Without awareness and advocating for stigma, patients can be treated strictly by their diagnosis rather than their character. This can occur with psychiatrists, therapists, psychologists, and especially those outside Medical-the police. When stigma is decreased, a person can feel more confident and content with themselves.
This was addressed by speaking about Mental Health policy in Illinois. Unfortunate and not surprising-there is a significant amount of budget cuts negatively impacting Mental health programming and/or insurance. It's always the news that has to be delivered when it comes to Mental health-policy needs reform.
To share their hope, inspiration, experience, and knowledge-three speakers were present in panel to share their story and/or research. A clinical psychologist, a police officer, and a Minister. Little did I know that each story would be about advocating for stigma not just for patients, but for themselves. Everyone had their own Mental Health diagnosis and it was openly and honestly shared. The psychologist was a bit more research and advocacy focused, but the other two were inspirational stories sharing their journey from challenge to triumph. It is not in my intention to share names or stories, but they educated an audience on the fact that anyone can have a Mental illness.
A psychiatrist, writer, a police officer, a teacher, an artist, a financial banker- It Can Be Anyone. What is not always considered is the amount of stigma a working professional receives. This speaker was a police officer and he was labeled just like a "violent, crazy" man he would put in handcuffs. Instead of being acknowledged for his excellent work ethic or his incredibly kind personality traits-he was labeled and discriminated against because he was assigned a label against his own will. This is not something that is chosen yet this does not stop the stigma from coming.
Can one imagine when a psychologist has a Mental illness? The doctor has a diagnosis, he is taking medication, and he is functioning quite well. Some who are understanding might be supportive and lower the stigma level down a bit and psychiatrists, those on the board, or supervisors may still have that label assigned.
How does a person catch up?
The psychologist noted in his speech that Stigma is increasing overtime. This means a person receives a diagnosis and then takes all the right steps. They are working with a psychiatrist, a therapist, seeking support, staying active, working, and have a good relationship/marriage/family. A person can be doing everything right, but it is still not good enough for people who don't understand illness. Without a basic understanding of Mental health, a person will always turn to focus on the Mental health condition- Bipolar, schizophrenic, depressed, anxiety etc. Many people just do not have any interest in understanding Mental Health and they CHOOSE to stigmatize those who have it because they do not know.
Of course, we have a Mental health system teaching America about Mental health through pharmaceutical commercials-this goes right back to policy-whose fault is this?? To clarify, the Mental heath system does educate our people properly, but it's also the responsibility of people to learn about Mental illness. Most people learn through personal experience-a friend, a co-worker, family member, or acquaintance. The personal experience with a chance of connection is preferred along with volunteering or working with the population. The media are going to be saved for another time, but they are clearly created bad stigma and they should be the last sources.
A person with a Mental health condition has a whole person that can be overlooked by stigma and a person can work their whole life to just be recognized as "Bob" or "Alexia" or "Matt." Are the Mental health population going to be able to keep up with the race after their own identity? Are they going to win dropping the label and being called "Matt" instead of "Matt with Bipolar disorder." The answer is YES
Those fantastic self-advocates who speak, the professionals that come forward and speak, the law enforcement that speaks, the Mental health professionals that speak.
IT IS POSSIBLE AND STIGMA WILL DECREASE RATHER THAN INCREASE
We can identify with so many things and we have abundant resources, but the stigma continues to rise and hearts continue to be broken.
Thank you for the professionals that do come forward because it takes bravery to expose the real life. It may appear to be the successful researcher and physician, but even professionals....even the "best" or the most "successful" have flaws.
Don't stigmatize them-acknowledge them and advocate for them!!!! -PCR-