We no sooner posted a Facebook link to an Oprah video sharing her thoughts on the stigma of ‘mental illness’ when a study from Ohio State suggests the term itself [‘mental illness’] is stigmatizing and should be retired (which is why we used: ‘person with mental or behavioral health disorder’). The conditions ‘behavioral’ and ‘mental’ are not necessarily the same-diagnostically speaking. Similarly, ‘recovery’ was a prominent theme everywhere a year or two ago, to offer hope to those dealing with addiction and/or a mental/behavioral health issue; and now, it’s being criticized by a parent of a struggling child as ‘unrealistic’ as some will not recover, and perhaps can only hope to live with/through a condition, or maintain a semblance of ‘normalcy’. The Goal is resilience, or coping successfully, learning to live better, and with. An individual with bi-polar disorder or Aspergers can do very well with effective care, medication, and therapy. Most often, you’d never know unless a condition were disclosed. As more knowledge comes to the forefront from biology, neurology, endocrinology, genetics, medicine, and the clinical disciplines, the mind ‘map’ scene and subsequently practice change.
This week’s Healthyplace blog discusses the topic of telling your family, friends or workplace you have a mental health disorder and you are ‘not okay’. In some families admitting you are a Democrat, or Republican, or Feminist, or LBGTQ, or even Christian, non-Christian, vegan, vegetarian, paleo, gluten-free, celiac, co-habiting, or have tattoos, or piercings causes a huge fall-out. It used to be long hair. Then it was orange (blue, green, or purple hair). You’d think suffering suicidal or homicidal ideation, being psychotic, or dealing with crippling anxiety or depression would generate far more concern for a person’s well-being, rather than stigma. On a spectrum, there is a vast difference between a sniffle and pneumonia; an allergy or emphysema. Mind wellness is similar, but the spectrum isn’t linear. Now addiction has been shuffled into the mix.
Mental wellness is approached quite differently by different age cohorts. The Silent Generation might also be known as the ‘shut-up and suck-it-up’ age group. Boomers might share, but also whisper about it, and then definitely seek medication and therapy. Millennials will have it all over social media and openly dish about what Gen Xers are more apt to keep under lid as they seek to advance socially and in careers. There was Lisa in elementary school that ‘couldn’t play with her friends anymore because her psychiatrist said she would soon need to go away to a place to get help for hearing voices and seeing people’. The family hushed it up and Lisa was never heard from or seen again. There was Alice in high school, who lived at ‘The Children’s Home’ for ‘troubled kids’. She wore Goth, and excelled in art. In ceramics she confided she sat in the graveyard talking with spirits; the therapist told her it was from abuse she’d endured as a child. Her sleeves were long to hide cutting. This was a shocking revelation. Alice didn’t make it to the end of the term; kids said she’d ‘moved back to Chicago’. End of story. One wondered about her; it was a helpless feeling.
There was the 30-something woman who chose to carry on a running conversation with a stranger in a mental health waiting room, but nothing made sense or barely hung together as she tried to stay present in the moment. The lightning storm in her brain was a frightening daily reality- with little compassion from an outside world pre-occupied with the everyday grind. It left a person wondering if anyone had been kind to her recently, how she was getting along, and how well she was doing that grey February day. It would not be a triumphant ‘I’m okay and you’re not’ moment, but an empathic awareness of just how difficult her life might be. Then, there was the senior citizen with the grocery cart filled with his belongings, who had completely lost his grip, and sat there, head bowed in his hands, unsure of what was real anymore, or perhaps where he belonged. Stigma dissolves in the face of an enlightened approach. Awareness, education, and advocacy are the forefront of this battle to change perceptions and improve the situation for millions.
[photo credit: by Katarizyna Bialasiewicz/Dreamstime 64130905]