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.