Destigmatising Mental Illness | Bipolar Disorder

Destigmatising Mental Illness | Bipolar Disorder

Mental illness is a sensitive topic in today’s society. It’s estimated that many people with depression, anxiety- or bipolar mood disorder wait years before seeking help, and by the time they finally do, their home and work life may have been compromised. Many people feel shame from not being “normal”, but in reality mental illnesses affect millions of people in the world. Changing how we think about mental health is a necessary step in helping so many people who are suffering in silence.

I like destigmatisation. It has always been a process that’s felt somehow honorable and worthwhile. You see, I suffer from bipolar disorder. Sometimes called manic depressive illness, bipolar disorder is the black dog that follows me always, everywhere I go. I am not crazy, insane or unable to see the beauty in a sunrise. I’m just sick. My brain chemistry is out of whack and despite all of my medications and the professional help I get, I am not always ok. And I’ve had to learn to accept that. My brain tells me every day, over and over, that I am unworthy, unloveable, incapable and a failure. I carry on, smile, laugh and I try to make the world better. But unfortunately, bipolar is incurable and sometimes terminal and it makes EVERY single day a fight for survival. A battle which I hide from the outside world.

One reason mental illness is difficult to diagnose, and perhaps the reason that stigma still persists, is that it’s difficult to see, and often the symptoms mask the real problem. The problem of stigma has been around for a long time. However, we can’t fix it overnight — we’re human, and we’ll always need to work to destigmatise things. The first step is understanding what you’re living and experiencing. So called shameful secrets and silence will lead to judgment and shame. We all have traumatic pasts and should be able to talk and work through them. It’s not disgraceful — it’s yours.

Some people’s cells attack their organs. We call this cancer and it can lead to death. The effects are treatable with medication and professional help. Unfortunately, cancer can be terminal, and yet we don’t destigmatise it. You instinctively support someone with cancer by raising awareness or money for research, offering your time, words of encouragement and even prayers without shame or disgrace. Why should mental illness be approached any differently?

Destigmatise: to remove association from shame or disgrace.

Miriam Webster Dictionary

Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people who suffer from mental illness from seeking the help they need. For a group of people who already carry such a heavy burden, stigma is an unacceptable addition to their pain. And while stigma has reduced in recent years, the pace of progress has not been quick enough.

All of us in the mental health community need to raise our voices against stigma. Every day, in every possible way.

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