The stigma of mental illness among the mentally ill

I have chronic and severe Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder with Recurrent Major Depressive Disorder and anxiety.  That sounds bad, but it’s not as bad as it could be, as mental disorders go.  At least I don’t think so.  There are worse mental disorders to have.  Now, mind you, this is only the opinion of a person who has had this disease for 19 years, almost two decades.  That’s fully half of my life.  One of the first therapists I had when I got out of the Service referred me to my psychiatrist because she said, “I think there’s something intrinsically wrong with you.”  What a statement for a mental health professional to make.  I was newly diagnosed with PTSD at the time and I was scared to death of having a diagnosis of a Personality Disorder come up.  I knew I didn’t have one, but I was scared, nonetheless, of there being something “intrinsically wrong” with me.  I didn’t ask for mental illness.  I didn’t ask to be a victim of this disease.  Nobody does.  Nobody asks for a mental disorder!  So why do even the mental health professionals treat us like we somehow wished these things upon ourselves?!  That’s a different rant for a different time, but the stigma, even amongst mental health professionals, is very real.

I want to talk about the stigma of mental illness among the mentally ill, though.  For instance, I demonstrated that stigma above when I said there are worse mental disorders to have than what I suffer from.  That’s stigma at work.  One disorder is just as bad as another in reality, because nobody wants to be mentally ill.  Nobody asks for it.  Nobody wants that stigma!  Yet, even amongst the mentally ill, it exists.  It exists even in me.  I talked to my doctor late this afternoon on the phone about a diagnosis that he (thankfully) took out of my chart and out of my records several years ago.  He owned up to possibly being the one who gave the diagnosis.  “I thought about it,” he said, “I may have been responsible for it.  I don’t know.  But I thought about it.”  He pointed out that it was an example of the stigma that we had talked about yesterday.  “I guess I’m challenging your assumption.  I think it’s wrong,” he said.  And he was right.  My assumption is wrong.  My feelings about it stem from the military mindset about mental illness, even though I’ve been out of the military for 17 years, now.  I was programmed to see mental illness in general as a weakness (which is wrong), and then to see certain mental disorders as even more of a weakness (which is wrong), and then, finally, with some help from the therapist I mentioned earlier, to believe that if you have certain mental disorders, there is something “intrinsically wrong” with you (which is wrong!).

Having a mental illness is just like having diabetes or heart disease or multiple sclerosis.  Nobody asks for those things.  Nobody wants those things.  Nobody wants the heartache or the stigma or the complicated medication regimens of those things.  Mental disorders are no different.  They are a disease process that just happens to be in your brain, which is an organ of your body just like your heart and your lungs and your pancreas.  So don’t treat people with mental illness with contempt and don’t treat them like they asked for the disease, because they didn’t!  I guarantee they wouldn’t wish their conditions on you in a million years because they wouldn’t want anyone else to suffer the way they do, especially the stigma it brings on them!

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