My Views on Social Stigma and Bipolar Disorder

July 7th, 2010

I have made the decision to be open about my diagnosis in both my personal and professional life. I didn’t take the decision lightly and certainly was advised by my psychiatrist,hospital therapists, and my parents to definitely NOT tell work.

I found it quite humorous that on one hand my psychiatrist and hospital therapists were telling me that I have nothing to be ashamed of, and it’s like any other disease like diabetes. Then in the next breath they told me not to tell work. Why? Because there is social stigma surrounding bipolar and last time I checked I have never heard people gossiping around the water cooler about Joe’s blood sugar level. Unfortunately I have heard the term “off her meds”, “belongs in a looney bin” too many times to count.

Social Stigma is a form of prejudice and just like a person doesn’t need to experience racism to know it’s wrong neither does a person need to have this illness to have empathy for a person with it.  I work with a group of racist people and it has taken me 2 years to train them not to make racist comments around me. With the inappropriate mental illness comments I often get, but I wasn’t referring to you. Sorry I spent some time in a “Looney Bin” and I don’t care if you weren’t saying it to me it’s not okay.

People often ask how do we correct this? It does take time and I do my small part by being open about my diagnosis, but a person doesn’t need to be open about his or her diagnosis to make a difference. Prior to my diagnosis I was a daughter of a mom with bipolar and if someone made inappropriate comments in front of me I would call him on it. I have had brass balls about this topic since I was about 14 and now that I’m diagnosed I’m even more passionate about it.

We are all people first and none of us asked for this illness. It’s not a character flaw and it’s not because we are weak. If anything I think I’m stronger than the average person.

This quote from the Canadian Mental Illness Awareness Week website www.miaw.ca  sums up how many people feel: “People with mental illness and their friends and family often say that the stigma and discrimination they face is worse than the illness itself”.  For me the illness is worse than what I have heard from ignorant twits, but it still hurts. Thanks for reading and please lets all do our small part.