September 14, 2010

Stigma or Just Misplaced Pride?

I've been thinking long and hard the last few days about mental health issues. I won't go into why. I don't feel that it's my story to tell but I can definitely say it's affected my life. Not like you'd think though. I can't honestly say that someone being mentally ill hurt my life, not their disease anyway. It was the refusal to acknowledge it that hurt my life. I won't say it's their fault that they didn't get help. They did reach out finally and get diagnosed but the diagnosis was never accepted by others in the family that could have made a difference. So the person was left feeling as if they couldn't honestly discuss what they were going through. I can't totally say I'm innocent here. I didn't believe the diagnosis either. I thought as usual that the person was just trying to get attention or needing drama. It didn't occur to me til much later that the person who I thought was just an attention-whore or drama queen really was in fact needing help and had been for a very long time. The things that irritated me the most about them were signs of mental illness.

Now I can say I didn't deny this person's disease because of any shame. I don't see things that way. I think personally that if someone has a mental disease, be it borderline or full blown that it's nothing to be ashamed of. It's a chemical issue in the brain and has no reflection on my family or our genes, my ability to pick friends, or anything like that. It's NOT a stigma except when others make it one. I denied it because as I said, I had seen it my whole life and thought it was just that someone needed a serious time out and some need to take responsibility for their actions. It didn't occur to me that this person wasn't always refusing to do so, sometimes they COULDN'T.

It's no better or worse than cancer. It's no better or worse than Parkinson's. It's no better or worse than anything that affects a persons daily life. In fact, the afore mentioned diseases get sympathy. People in general don't make fun of cancer patients. They do make fun of people with mental disorders though. I know I have from time to time myself. Not in a mean way necessarily, except in relation to my stalker, but it's sill not okay.

I think this is why it's not widely accepted. Just as I did, we chalk odd/bad behavior up to bad parenting, a child being spoiled and never growing up, or just that someone is a bad person in general. It's easier to accept that than it is that the person cannot help themselves because a well adjusted person sees things as more black and white. You either exhibit good behavior with good morals or you don't. A person with a mental disorder might very well have those same values in their own mind and may even show perfectly reasonable responses to other people most of the time, but other times they're views are skewed. They think they are acting just like anyone else would. They may or may not realize at those times how others view them, but no matter what they can't stop themselves.

I watched a show the other day on Investigation Discovery talking about a woman who was killing her teenage daughters and forcing her sons to assist her in their beatings before they were murdered. To everyone in the community she was a normal Mom who came to the school parties, attended the PTA meetings, worked with people daily and never triggered a red flag in any one. No one knew that this same person had actually done something like shooting her daughter then doing surgery on her herself to avoid an investigation. She nursed her daughter back to health and then killed her later anyway when the girl asked to go on a date. The Psychologist on the show said that in most cases these people might be doing horrible things in private but they know in public that they must exhibit normal behavior and so they do. That might seem like the person could also then choose to make normal choices in other things too but apparently it doesn't work that way. Their brain doesn't work like that. Now of course this is an extreme example but this was just someone with a borderline personality disorder. You have to wonder if she had sought help or if a loved one who did know how she acted at home had done more to help her, would those girls still be alive?

According to The National Institute of Mental Health , approx 26.2% of Americans 18 or older suffer from some type of mental disorder. Some people may even have more than one type of disorder at a given time. That means that more than a quarter of American adults have some type of mental issue! Mental disorders are also the leading disability in the United States. I find that staggering since I know for a fact that this only represents those that seek help. I can tell you off the top of my head of at least 10 people I've known in my entire life that need help but will never admit it and they will never seek assistance because they feel it somehow makes them a bad person or less than others. Can you imagine how much better their life could be just admitting there's a problem and seeking help? The sad thing is that people like I used to be, make it harder for them to do so.

You know when you hear someone is bi-polar, you might feel bad for them, but you whisper it to others who don't know. Or when you see someone in the store who's obviously having issues, that you look at them funny and walk away faster. I have, I can admit that. It's that sort of behavior that makes it harder for a person to seek the help they need. They don't want to be made fun of. They don't want to be whispered about. They don't want to feel shamed. In most cases they WANT to be better but just can't because we as society don't always understand.

I'm vowing today that I will be more accepting. I will act as God has called on me to do and be a good neighbor, good friend, good Christian. I will not make it harder for someone to be accepted or make them feel uncomfortable about their problem. I will do my very best to be the person they know they can turn to in bad times knowing they will not face judgement or have their business whispered about later. I know I am just one person, but anyone who reads this......consider doing the same yourself. Accept that the brain is a mysterious organ capable of many things, not all of them good and that just maybe the person who really irritates you, could be a victim who needs help, not someone to be shunned.

Just a thought.


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