Saturday, November 13, 2010

Rerun: Some Observations on Stigma

From Jan 2009 ...

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

"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 Stable Moods interview


Willa Goodfellow said...

I will get back to the stigma topic myself, just as soon as I finish being creative and smart with these diagnosable gingerbread houses of mine. They are intended as find-raisers, by the way -- for NAMI and for Habitat for Humanity.

Dawn said...

"People HAVE diabetes or HAVE a heart condition. But I AM bipolar."
Wow John,
Was I surprised to read that when I read your complete interview. Also "I'm a professional bipolar."
But this very attitude I think is part of the stigma equation.

When I was corrected by my p-doc, "you aren't bipolar, you have bipolar disease", I failed to see the difference. Now, two year post-diagnosis, I think it is important. Identifying yourself as a disease perpetuates the victim mentality. And it isn't unique to mental illness. People with all kinds of difficulties play the martyr card; or NOT.

I do understand your meaning. My husband had emergency open heart surgery at 46. He has a heart condition that requires monitoring, and change in life-style. It changed him, but he has fought hard to be son, father, husband, employee, friend, musician.

Bipolar illness has shaped me and my family. Many times in ways I have not liked, but I fight against a disease so that I can be Dawn, the daughter, mother, wife, friend, artist, teacher, dancer, gardener.

Your posts continue to inform and provoke to thought.