Saturday, August 31, 2013

Why we can't beat stigma

If you are treated for cancer and are in remission, people aren't going to tell you that you never had cancer in the first place. Well, I suppose some people might, but most people won't.

But if you had a mental illness, were treated (or not), and it is in remission, a lot of people are going to tell you that.

If you are doing well because you are currently managing your illness with meds, therapy, or other means, then they'll tell you that you didn't have a very bad case. The more we succeed, the more people deny our illness, rather than embrace the possibility of recovery.

This makes it all too hard to change the stigma of serious mental illness.

Drug companies would have you think that the biggest problem with stigma is that it stops people from seeking treatment. I think the biggest problem with stigma is the number of people with serious mental illness who are not working. When I went back to work, I had to change fields, and be very creative in accounting for time in order to camouflage my years on disability when I was so out of control.

Would you rather tell your boss that you are calling out sick because of a migraine or because the voices in your head are too loud today? That you have the stomach flu and can't stop throwing up or are too depressed to stop crying? I'm still trying to figure out what to say on those days.

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