Saturday, June 5, 2010

The Stigma of Mental Health

I often wonder how long it will be, if ever, before we get over our stigmas about Mental Health. Have you noticed that many people will talk about their physical ailments over tea, dinner, out in public, at work, at school, etc - right down to the nitty gritty details of treatment, but most shy away from discussions about mental health?

If you want to clear a room fast, or suspend conversation, just try telling everyone at the table that you are bi-polar. A few people are more open to this kind of topic now, but largely it's still a 'hush hush' issue. You could say it's because people fear something that they cannot control, something that affects the mind - the essence of our humanity. However, just as many physical ailments can affect the mind, or affect the body to the point that it appears as though the mind is not functioning 'right'. But we still talk about those, have big fundraisers for them (ALS, Parkinson's, etc), and mental health issues get the bottom rung. I wonder why that is?

I thought about a post like this because I was out with a friend who has several physical ailments, past and present. She was chatting openly about having Lupus, recovering from bowel and uterine cancer, having her ovary removed for a benign tumor, etc. Some women sitting near us were listening sometimes, looking interested and concerned. One eventually interrupted and stated that her sister has Lupus and they discussed medication, symptoms, etc. I talked about the oddity of my cousin and his wife both being diagnosed with MS and wondered at the odds of that. On and on it went.

But then, the woman that my friend helps out through a Respite Program came and sat with us. She has Down's Syndrome and an undetermined mental disability that affects her speech. The women who were so animatedly speaking with us about very personal physical ailments suddenly looked very uncomfortable and ceased interaction. They turned away, then turned back to stare, angling their bodies away from the new woman. When 'S' tried to speak and only muffled ramblings came out, the women all looked at each other and got up and left!

Yes the stigma is still alive and well. It's sad really. A few minutes earlier we were talking about uteri, ovaries, blood, urine tests, colonoscopies, etc and that was accepted - but the mere presence of a woman with Down's Syndrome was not. Why is that? Why can we handle discussions about open heart surgery, hysterectomies, radiation, mastectomies, vasectomies, laproscopic surgery, dental surgeries, cataracts, ear infections (wax, goop), sinus drainage, etc etc etc etc but cannot seem to handle discussing pretty much any mental health issue from depression to post partum psychosis to bi-polar to schizophrenia? They are all disorders that our bodies have come up with, disorders requiring treatment, some having a cure but others not, and yet they are separated in our minds. One can be talked about at the dinner table, while the other is met with hushed whispers and glances over the shoulder for people within earshot. That's pretty sad, don't you think?

If you can have an imbalance in your body that leads to a physical disorder, why isn't it comparable to an imbalance in the brain that leads to a 'mental' disorder. Why are they classed differently? The last time I checked, the brain was part of our body, so in effect, it IS a physical disorder as well, is it not?

Hormone fluctuations may cause problems in the body like hypothyroidism, baldness in women, conception and pregnancy difficulties, etc - and these can be discussed with your Stylist if you feel the urge. But a chemical fluctuation in the brain, perhaps leading to something like severe depression or bi-polar disorder is SHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHHhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhhh.

Perhaps we can all take this time to evaluate what is going on, educate ourselves, and be more open and supportive to anyone suffering from ANY type of illness. I can talk about how I take 4 different kinds of medication every day for my blood pressure and protein deficiency, but I didn't feel that I could talk about taking Paxil for 4 months after my daughter was born and I realized I was having a pretty major depression issue. I felt like I had to hide that, but I could talk about any other medical issue. Maybe there would even be more advances in treatment if the stigma was lifted and more people accepted this and talked about it. Maybe with more support, people suffering from various mental disorders would do better and be healthier.

5 comments:

  1. as someone with a family history of depression i can say that talking about it and being aware of what someone is going through is very important. if you are aware you can head off disaster. not always but most of the time. i have to jump on the med bandwagon to keep an even keel once in awhile. i feel no shame about it but i was aware of what i was feeling.

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  2. The problem with many mental illnesses is that there is often no cure and the alternative, control, is lacking. One young man I know spent years being treated for the depression side of his bipolar nature with no real benefit. When another doctor began to tackle his manic side he became better able to cope. Another young man I know suffers from Aspergers syndrome for which there really is no cure or treatment. Then a different young man received the same diagnosis with none of the accompanying symptoms I suspect so he could continue to receive welfare payments.

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  3. I'm currently in a case against my Employer and Insurance Company,I had a job burn-out collapse and needed time to rest. But i guess the average person doesn't fair well because once i made progress to return to work I was Fired and told my Job was gone. Same thing for a guy that had a heart attack, he worked long enough so he could be legally fired during down-sizing.
    I've been crusading for the Mentally ill because i was never deemed violent or crazy,but i was accused of Insurance Fraud when the Case manager mock me as too smart to be a valid LTD claim so I must be faking it.
    Ergo....all mentally ill persons are stupid.

    The Manager is going to pay for that one,the rest did good for me and I'm recharged ready to go. I've seen the world through the Mentally Ill eyes but I recovered while some can fight for themselves.
    I'm alos convinced there IS a homeless industry but for the homeless,it's a Refugee scam to import people to fill new Housing and justify all the spin-off jobs. I contacted various advocates but they all pushed me onto some other Group and i still don't know what they do to get the Charity Status other than tell me that mental Illness is BAD,very bad.
    I needed short-term aid for my rent until some moeny comes in, but the Social Workers all had heavy accents and treated me like i wasn't a minority group with voting power.
    Government racism by the Lower-expectations to assume non-white are lazy and stupid while canadians are all bigots that get the good jobs and live in mansions.
    The worker never showed up for the Home Visit based on my 3 medical issue,they have called either for 3 weeks. The ycan keep their money ,my parent served in WW2 for canada and I won't beg for help from new immigrants used as useful idiots by the Elite-Liberals that are aided by CUPED that robs their wallets of Dues and promises paradise and free-money for ever.
    A real eye opener when non-whites in Social services presupposes that other non-whites are stupid and lazy and deserve Welfare because of 400 years of slavery and oppression.
    I'd even pay it back later,but no,I've been profiled as too smart based on my Colour and Citizenship.

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  4. Yes agreed. I'm sure we all know our share of psychopaths, eg. those without any semblance of a conscience and the damage they do to others. (real conservative)

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  5. Sorry it took so long to approve your comments - and thanks for leaving them!

    someone mentioned people who might get a mental health diagnosis so they can get welfare cheques, and I have heard that a lot because it can be very hard to prove. It's not often like you can run a ct scan and tada, the brain shows a specific illness. It's based largely on observing behaviour for things that are not so obvious. However, there are tons of people who file false claims for physical disabilities as well. Like my bf's coworker who was on paid disability after a vehicle accident, but then went out to play LACROSSE and got hurt - achilies tendon injury. He tried to claim that as part of his accident, that happened months earlier. But they could not prove other times he had played the game, so he did not have to pay back the money that WE gave him while on disability. It happens whether it's mental illness, physical illness, etc. Some people are scammers.

    What I feel for is the stigma itself. Again, people can sit around and tell practical strangers that they are going for lung treatments, dialysis, radiation, blood work, MRIs, etc but you try saying 'yeah I am being observed for bi-polar disorder' and most people just clam up and don't want to talk about it. Meanwhile, they just shared all about the inner workings of their bodies to the point where you could imagine what their fractured rib looks like.... but it's a 'no go' land on brain disorders, chemical imbalances, etc.

    I also think that perhaps if people were more accepting of this, others might have a greater chance of getting help. I had post-partum depression after the birth of my 2nd child and I knew that I had to tell someone about it, but it was embarrassing. I told my doc that I was having dreams constantly about people dying, and that i was freaking out over the stupidest things and crawling along the floor feeling like my chest would explode - just cos my 5 year old spilled his milk. I felt SO ridiculous saying that, like he was going to lock me up or something.

    But at other times I could easily go in and tell my doc that my urine was dark, or I was bleeding too heavily during menstruation, or I had a pain in my rectum. Why the trouble telling him about a problem that might have been going on in my brain? It is the most important organ, in my opinion, so why wouldn't I want to make sure that it was running smoothly? Why be able to discuss rectums and vaginas, but not the brain? LOL

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