Thursday, December 31, 2009

Rerun - Some Observations on Stigma

It is fitting to close out the last day of 2009 with a blog piece from the first day of 2009. Enjoy ...

Today, I completed an email interview with Michael, a patient who has recently set up an excellent website, I Am Bipolar.

"What more do you think can be done to change the public’s perception of mental illness?" he asked.

That one really got me thinking. "We (patients) have to take more responsibility and stop blaming others," I responded. "We need to recognize that our behavior has put those around us through no end of grief and that they have every right to never want to associate with us."

That was just my warm-up. We tend to think of stigma as something we have to put up with from the general population - and, believe me, there's more than enough of it to go around - but we're not going to get very far doing nothing for ourselves and waiting for others to change.

I've seen far too many patients on the cusp of recovery but going nowhere - stuck - and I can't help thinking a victim mindset has a lot to do with it. Not only do these patients hurt themselves, a lot of them hurt the rest of us. All it takes is just one person to play the bipolar card on someone once too often to turn a would-be sympathizer into a one more reason my life is difficult.

Fortunately, people are capable of forgiving us for our outrageous behavior, but first we need to ask, and second we need to demonstrate good faith.

Meanwhile, we need to make an effort to become role models, to start acting as if we have something to offer the world. An enlightened public is more than willing to embrace us and put up with some of the craziness that goes with the whole package, provided that we set out to become a positive force in their lives.

There has been a major sea change in public attitudes since I was diagnosed 11 years ago. Yes, we are still exposed to a lot of, "He's acting weird, must be bipolar." But we're also hearing more of, "Wow, she's so amazingly smart and creative and personable, must be bipolar."

Next thing, we'll have a bipolar President. Wait, we've already had at least at least three (John Adams, TR, LBJ). More on stigma in a future blog ...

Complete IamBipolar Interview


A very warm thank you to all my readers. This blog began as an experiment in 2009, as a way of tackling new and challenging topics and reaching out to a wider audience. I am particularly heartened by the many new bonds I have established, and look forward to strengthening these associations throughout 2010. To each and every one of you, a happy and hopeful 2010.

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