This essay has been written by Ellen who was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder and shows a different perspective regarding Stigma of mental disorders. It's a very important text as it talks about barriers to treatment and healing which is just one result of Stigma.
I have experienced a mental illness for my entire adult life, almost 40 years. I am still here to tell my story. My view on stigma is a little bit different from others because I was the victim of my own opinions about mental health challenges. I was in denial well into my adulthood. At age 20, I was diagnosed with sudden onset of major depression, which later became bipolar disorder and then schizoaffective disorder.
In the beginning, my opinions were much akin to the stereotyped images of an alcoholic who cannot function. I didn’t want to be that person who experienced unstable moods and psychosis. These opinions made recovery only a remote possibility for me in those early years of experimental treatment.
Over time, I had to unlearn these opinions because they were detrimental to my survival. I became better at eliminating my own stigma after hitting many bottoms. From there, my choices were to get up and face the truth or die from the illness.
Facing the truth became my ally. I began to appreciate the medication treatment offered to me even after the long time I stigmatized the treatment. Experiencing side effects of medication like weight gain and low energy no longer consumed me because I knew that experiencing the symptoms of bipolar disorder would have meant my demise.
A diagnosis like bipolar disorder or schizophrenia knows no boundaries regardless of your experience, faith, or economic background. To me, this realization was my first step toward asking for help and TRUSTING that the people who were able to help me were going to help me. I did get help from professionals, family, and friends. Today I am engaged in my work, my community, and my well-being.
If you live in a culture, belong to a religious group, or are a member of a class system that deems mental illness as a weakness, realize and educate others that anyone can experience depression and anxiety. If you are not getting support from your inner circle of people, then go where the experts are, the patients who have come through to a healthier place. I wish you well on your journey to break away from stigma.
An essay by Ellen Lawless