Stigma: We Have to Keep Fighting

school-girls-bullying-vector-illustration_k20080778

When I was first diagnosed with depression, I didn’t want anyone to know. I was only about 17/18 and was already considered to be the weird one among friends and family…I didn’t want to make things worse. I knew that my friends wouldn’t understand because 1) majority of them have never been through something like that, 2)they couldn’t understand things that didn’t fit into their world. My family…if they couldn’t see or touch it then it didn’t exist (this went for physical illnesses as well, and this only applied to most of my family). I knew the most common phrases would be:

  • It’s just an excuse/phase
  • Just get over it
  • Stop being so dramatic
  • Grow up and take responsibility for yourself

For a long time I was too scared and ashamed to confide in anyone. So I kept it to myself and tried my hardest to act normal. Some days it took all the energy I had, but I felt like I had to keep up the charade. The day  decided to “let people in” wast the worst, but it wasn’t the best either. I got many of the reactions I knew I would, and then some kind ones I wasn’t expecting. I was called cray and asked so many uncomfortable incriminating questions (as if this was my fault and my choice). After the big reveal, a lot of people either kept their distance or started treating me different as if I announced that I had some horrible contagious disease. For a while I was actually okay with that because I didn’t have to deal with people. I grew tired of the stares and whispers but at least people stopped bothering me about the situation. After a while I got lonely, but once I reminded myself of what happened after I let people in, I just accepted that living the lonely life would be better. I actually stopped taking my medication in fear of extra ridicule from people (especially now that they know of my condition). It took me what seemed like forever to get over that and learn to ignore what other people said and thought about me so I could do what was best for me. I still face judgement from people who know about my circumstances, the only difference is now I don’t care (at least I try not to).

Negative thoughts/marks about a particular person (group of people) based on certain circumstances is called stigma. Mental health stigma has been around long before people really knew what mental health was. There are 2 distinct types of mental health stigma: social stigma (prejudicial attitudes and behaviors directed towards people with mental illness) and perceived/self-stigma (internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination). Due to the fact most people don’t understand mental health, they view all symptoms and people who have mental illness as threatening, unpredictable and uncomfortable. Stigma comes in many forms: unwarranted assumptions, distrust, avoidance, pity, rejection, fear, dislike and under-estimation of abilities. Because of the stigmas people will often tell those suffering from mental illness that they’re crazy, weird, faking it, that it’s just a phase or (somehow) it’s their fault. Disclosing that you have a mental illness can keep you from obtaining a job (or if you have a job..a promotion). It’s not right (or legal) but people find loopholes and ways around everything. The stigma people face keeps them from seeking or continuing treatment, worsening the conditions and jeopardizing recovery. Stigma causes people to feel self-hatred, confusion, self-doubt, shame, anger, sadness, loneliness, etc. These negative thoughts can just be the fuel someone needs to commit suicide, which is the 10th leading cause of death in the US.

(If you or someone you know is thinking or harming yourself, please seek help immediately. You are not alone and there is someone out there who cares and is willing to listen and help you!)

imagesThese negative ideal about mental health didn’t come from nowhere. Long ago before mental health was mental health, people thought those who were “different” were possessed by demons and other spirits. If this was your “explanation” for a person acting “different”, it would be easier to understand the fear, caution and discrimination. However with today’s medical research and scientific advancements, we know a lot more about mental health (and yet for some, it means absolutely nothing). Even with all of this knowledge, people still have their misguided views about mental health and mental illnesses. Compared to physical illness, mental illness is taken less serious in the medical field. The biggest perpetrator of misinformation comes from the media (movies, books, tv shows and the news). Movies will have characters portraying different mental illnesses, displaying overly dramatic symptoms to make the movie seem more interesting. Some media outlets are doing better at conducting more thorough research and watching how they display and talk about these illness, but some still don’t care. The news is the worst at making people with mental illness seem like dangerous criminals by calling every criminal they report on a psycho or blaming their horrific actions on being mentally ill. films-about-mental-illness

Why is stigma so important anyway? Stigma encourages prejudicial attitudes and discriminatory behaviors. Stigma hinders treatment and recovery. Mental illness is the biggest economic burden of any other health issue. It’s expected to cost $6 trillion dollars by 2030 with majority of the costs being attributed to disability and loss of work. Funding for mental health research is low and that is why people with mental health problems are ten times more likely to find themselves in prison than in a psychiatric facility. At the end of the day, simply put, stigma is bad. But what can we do to fight back?

There are many things that we can do to fight against stigma. The first and most important thing we can do is educate ourselves, and take that knowledge and share it with others. Becoming educated on the matter and raising awareness on the issues helps counteract and eliminate stereotypes. When we see someone using stereotypes we need to call them out on it and get them to understand why what they are doing is wrong, and let them know how they can fix and change their ways. There are 9 efficient ways to fight stigma.

 

  1. Talk openly…I use my blog to talk openly about my battles with depression and what it’s like to have bipolar disorder and PTSD. Talking openly lets people know that I’m not ashamed or scared, and hopefully it lets other people know that they don’t have to be ashamed either.
  2. Educate yourself…That old saying that knowledge is power is true. The more you know the better you do. Many people make rude comments about mental health because they simply don’t know anything about it other than what they see on TV or hear on the news.
  3. Be conscious of language…Even I’m guilty of this one from time to time and have to remind myself that words can hurt. Changing the world I use and how I use them can make a big difference. Using words like “crazy”, “weird” and “psycho” can be hurtful.
  4. Encourage equality between physical and mental health…It’s no secret that mental health is not taken as seriously as physical health. Because it’s hard to “see” mental health, people don’t understand it. If people could learn to see depression and bipolar disorder the same way they do a broken arm or cancer, then attitudes would change.
  5. Show compassion…Compassion and pity are two different things. Offering a hug, kind words, a shoulder to cry on or lending an ear are all signs of compassion. It’s just the simple gesture of letting a person know that someone cares. It can make all the difference in the world.
  6. Choose empowerment…Don’t let others tell you how to live and feel about your own life. You need to own your illness. Don’t let others make you feel ashamed about something that’s not your fault.
  7. Be honest about treatment…When we say we have an appointment with a normal doctor, most people don’t even blink twice about it. At least there’s no judgement because everyone goes to the doctor. Say that you’re seeing a therapist and people give you those crazy looks and stares, immediately judging you. They start to whisper about what could be wrong with you to other people and come up with their own assumptions about you.
  8. Let the media know…You have a voice and it’s okay to use it. Letting people, including media outlets, know that the way they are portraying mental health is wrong and offensive is in a way our responsibility. We can’t expect others to speak up for us, and you don’t have to use foul and negative language just to get your point across.
  9. Don’t harbor self-stigma…Let those negative thoughts and feelings go!!!

myth-busting2

Fear has driven mental health stigma for the last 400 years. It’s time to get rid of this fear. Fear has created several myths about mental health.

  • Mental health problems do not affect children or youth. Any problems they have are just part of growing up. Facts: 1 in 5 children and youth struggle with mental health.
  • It is the parents’ fault if children suffer from mental health problems. Facts: Mental health disorders in children are caused by biology, environment or a combination of both.
  • People with a mental illness are “psycho”, mad and dangerous and should be locked away. Facts: People with mental illness have normal lives, but their feelings and behaviors negatively affect their day-to-day lives.
  • Depression is a character flaw and people should just “snap out of it”. Facts: Depression results from changes in brain chemistry or brain function.
  • People with mental illness never get better. Facts: TREATMENT WORKS as long as you are consistent in following the treatment plan.

Explaining why getting rid of stigmas is so beneficial for everyone involved could take days. It’s not a very important topic of discussion right now, and it’s not just mental health stigma (though that is the focus of this post). Fear is number cause of stigma and it’s time to change that. We all have a voice and it’s time to use it for good. The change won’t happen overnight, but it needs to happen. Let’s keep fighting to end stigma together.

vtbqhd2s4mjvh3usakya

World Bipolar Day

Today is World Bipolar Day! This day is all about bringing more awareness, education and social acceptance to the disease and to those dealing with Bipolar Disorder. Bipolar disorder is more common than people think it is. Most people go majority of their lives undiagnosed or misdiagnosed, confusing their symptoms with another illness. By celebrating this day you’re not saying “Yay, I have bipolar disorder”. No one is happy to have a mental illness, but those who have it make the best out of their situation and they want others to know that they are not alone. Being ashamed of your disorder will only hinder whatever recovery and healing process you may try. Feeding into fears and stigmas is no way to live or get better.

Bipolar Disorder: There are four basic types of bipolar disorder. Bipolar disorder is a disorder that deals with changes in mood, energy, activity levels and the ability to perform day-to-day tasks. These moods range from extremely high (manic) to extremely low (depressive).

Bipolar disorder is not a rare disorder. Over 5.7 million adults alone suffer from bipolar disorder each year. The tests to determine if one is bipolar is not easy. Only after careful observations of symptoms are made will a person be diagnosed with bipolar disorder.

According to Inspire Malibu, a list of common symptoms include:

  • Suicidal thoughts or attempted suicide
  • Problems concentrating, making decisions or remembering things
  • Racing thoughts and talking extremely fast
  • An unrealistic belief in one’s abilities
  • Restlessness and irritability
  • Extended feelings of emptiness and worry
  • A change in sleeping and eating habits
  • Impulsive and destructive behavior
  • Distracted and restless

My personal push is to get rid of stigma for not only bipolar disorder, but mental illness in general. Stigma is a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, person or quality. There are many consequences of stigma, some with potential danger hanging in the background.

  • Discrimination at work or school
  • Alienation from friends, family and colleagues
  • Difficulties getting proper housing
  • Physical violence
  • Feelings of shame and guilt
  • The belief that there is nothing that can help them

Before being diagnosed with bipolar disorder, I didn’t know who I was. I grew up as a chameleon, blending in to the background of wherever I was, changing my colors to please the closet person to me at the moment. My likes, my thoughts, even my hopes and dreams for myself were not my own. Since…because of my bipolar diagnosis, I’ve had to take a step back and re-evaluate my life, who I really am. Everyday I’m learning something new about myself, and even though it’s scary sometimes, it’s refreshing and exciting to finally discover the person I am, flaws and all. I’ve had to learn my strengths, my weaknesses, my triggers, set my own goals, etc. Having bipolar disorder means that I see and handle the world a little differently. I feel things more intensely, and that’s okay. I have not suddenly become some potential criminal just because I have bipolar disorder. Family, friends and completely “normal” strangers pose more of a threat to me than I ever will to them because they don’t understand me, and because of that they fear me. Unchecked fear can be dangerous as it can make a person do some crazy things.

Unfortunately for this bipolar day I will be at work. However I have created a painting that represents bipolar disorder for me. This post is also my contribution for World Bipolar Day. I will also be wearing a handmade bracelet (see picture below) the entire day at work. I’m spreading the word, trying to get as many people as I can interested in the subject enough to start their own quest for answers, hopefully pointing them in the right directions.

I want people to realize that I’m not a threat nor am I just my illness. I’m still human. I’m still me…a me that just so happens to have bipolar disorder. I want people to take the initiative to learn what bipolar is. I want people to understand that everybody is dealing with something and that we should all just be nice and kind to one another whenever we can.

It’s World Bipolar Day. Go be nice to someone. Go learn something.

Stop the stigma. Let go of the fears.

Bipolar Day 2018…let’s make it a great one.

(Not the best artist but you get the idea)

When the Seasons Change….

Mood swings are hard enough being unpredictable and interrupting your daily routines. What if I told you that that seasons can affect your moods, and that you could possibly track them. Mania typically occurs in the spring and the summer, whereas depression is more likely to occur during the fall and winter (for some people it could be reversed). Why do you think that is? It has a lot to do with the sunlight. When the sun is out and temperatures are on the warmer side, people tend to be a little happier. When it’s cold people tend to draw up and hide inside.

Sleep is also affected by the different times of year. Medical professionals will tell you that sleep (rest) is an important part of recovery for any illness. When that sleep is interrupted or changed, it can make the recovery process a little harder. In the different times of the year you also have different activities. The holidays in the fall and winter can make you more stressed. The break that the summer brings gives you a chance to relax.

As I said, you can track these changes by setting a yearly calendar and marking when you noticed a change starting and when it ends. Once you do this for a while, you may or may not start to notice a pattern. If you notice a pattern, you can start planning ahead of time to prepare for the changes. For example:

  • If you notice that you become more depressed during the holidays, make it easier for you. Planning your holiday shopping earlier or doing it online make relieve you of some of the stress going out and dealing with the crowds and hustle and bustle can cause. You can also plan something special to do for yourself once the holidays are over (a mini trip, a spa day, a day where you do absolutely nothing, etc.).
  • Talk to a support group and find out what others are doing to manage and track their moods and symptoms.

Tracking your moods means that you are looking at and treating your illness in the long term. Noticing the patterns can show you whether or not to make changes in your current treatment plan (more or less medication, more or less therapy, etc.).

I personally get more depressed around holidays and the summer time. My favorite time of year (for my moods too) is September through November. My birthday, which happens to fall in January, is the worst time of the year for me. It never fails, no matter what I try. I try to find different things to encourage myself to be excited for my birthday (or the holidays), but so far nothing has worked. I haven’t given up though. I think I become depressed in the summer time because of the sun. The sun makes tired and drains my energy. The cold air and grey skies makes me, like most, want to curl up in a ball and stay in bed. Those fall months are just perfect for me because the air is cool but not cold against my skin and it gives it energy. The leaves changing color is something that I find to be majestic and inspiring. (Writing this blog is making me explore things about myself that I never took the time to realize before).

Do you notice and change in your moods when the seasons change?

Check out this article on BPHope.

dbf59e_46c41993e0334486a28dcb0f335b9287~mv2_d_2048_1207_s_2

Warm Weather Activities

Now that the sun is out and the temperatures are starting to increase, it’s time to get outside and soak it all up. Vitamin D is important for everyone! There are plenty of wonderful fun things to do outside. Just take your pick!

1. Do you live by any parks? Have a swing on the swing set. Take a nice walk or jog and get that heart pumping. Live by a river or lake? Take a blanket and sit by it. Maybe read a book or listen to some music while you’re there. Enjoy the scenery.

2. Do you have a green thumb? Start a garden. Once you start it you can’t neglect it so you’ll always find a reason to be outside.

3. Where I live has an outdoor pool. It’s not warm enough yet to get in but once it is, taking a dip is on my list. Being in the water makes me feel so free and relaxed.

4. Take your exercise routine outside. Improvise and use what you have. Doing yoga outside while breathing in the fresh air can be rather rejuvenating. Be a kid again and jump rope, play hop scotch, hula hoop!

5. Have a small get together (BBQ/potluck) and make it.a party.

6. Take a ride on a bike.

7. Take a hike. Explore your surroundings.

8. Go fishing.

9. Go camping. Sit under the stars. Sit by the campfire and tell stories. (An experience I’ve never had).

10. Go to a drive in move theater. The experience is awesome. Especially for little kids.

11. Take a nap outside in a hammock.

12. Have a picnic.

Whatever you choose to do, get out and soak up some vitamin D!

Screening Teens Annually for Depression

It’s no secret that the rate of depression in teenagers and young adults has increased over the last few years. Most of these teenagers (and their families) don’t know that they have depression until certain behaviors start to change (grades start slipping, they become more combative, start using drugs and alcohol etc.) or they commit or attempt to commit suicide. Most adults with depression will tell you that they felt their symptoms around the ages of 12 and 13 but didn’t know what it was or who they could talk to about it. The US, UK and other parts of the world are pushing for annual depression screenings for teens starting at the age of 12.

There are many reasons to agree with this guideline. Screening for depression yearly means that you will be able see the warning signs early enough to provide intervention, or you’ll find a child who may have been suffering in silence and be able to get them the help that they have been needing. You won’t be able to help everyone, there will be some that slip through the cracks (I’ll explain why), but you’ll get the opportunity to help a good portion of those who may not have otherwise been able to get it.

Though this guideline has some great potential, there are also many flaws and questions that need to be answered.

  1. Does this become mandatory or is it voluntary?
  2. What will you do for those cultures/individuals who do not wish to comply? Since there are cultures whose belief towards mental illness is different (some non-existent), it would be hard to get everyone to agree (on their own) to participate in such testing.
  3. Would the testing be done in school or would you have to go on your own?
    1. If it is done in the school…
      1. is it free or charge
      2. is the screening done by a professional or school counselor
      3. where would the money for the screening (and hiring a professional) come from
  4. Will the screening process follow a standard depression screening test
  5. How will you deal with the stigma it will create among the children? Children can be cruel and they love to tease each other. This opens the door for another thing to tease/bully a child about.
  6. When you find a child whose test shows they are or may be depressed, what’s the next step?
  7. Children can be tricky, so how do you weed out the tricksters and liars?

The government is wanting schools to get more involved, so they plan to incorporate mental health awareness training into their core programs for teachers and school counselors. There are many people who feel that starting at the age of 12/13 is too young. The argument is that these children aren’t sure of their feelings as they are just growing into themselves and still figuring out the world around them. The fear of knowing that a child that young is depressed is having to put that child on antidepressants. Doctors don’t particularly enjoy putting young children on anti-depressants due to the potential side effects.

Children need an open and safe environment where they feel free to talk about their problems. Read the article written in The Guardian for more information. What are your thoughts on this? Do you think teens should be screened for depression yearly? Do you think it would have helped if you were screened when you were younger? Should be stop at just depression? Let me hear your thoughts.