“Who isn’t diagnosed with it?”

That was a common insight I heard growing up when someone was mentioned as being bipolar. It was laughed off and considered nothing more than doctors wanting to make more money by inventing a disorder. People do tend to be at least a little more thoughtful if you say that you are being treated for manic depression. That sounds more important, surely. Mental health is often the elephant in the room: No one wants to acknowledge it and hopes that it will just be silent or, even better, go away. Why? What is the stigma behind mental health issues? Is it as simple as if it doesn’t affect me, it isn’t real or important? I am inclined to believe that, but I am a cynic. However, one can also equate it to the stigma of mental health disorders being equated with being crazy. No one wants to be like that one deranged family member (In my family, that’s probably me.) Fear of being different than the norm for our own social construct is a taboo above all others.

I’ve been off-kilter all my life. It has been a long journey to resolve what my issues are to even begin addressing them. When the subject of depression or anxiety would be brought up, people either ignored it or stressed to me that there was nothing wrong with me. The hard truth is there was and always will be. I didn’t ask for it, but will also not be silenced when I speak of it. That’s what is more common, shushing someone who even hints that they may have a mental health issue. You dare not mention it at work for the possibility of repercussions. It may be illegal to discriminate, but it happens for a variety of reasons with mental health only being one. It’s also a difficult thing to prove, often being a he said/she said. I have been fortunate to work for people who accepted, at least vocally, that this was a significant issue and supported my efforts to seek treatment. Over the years I have had people publicly and privately, personally and professionally, thank me for being so vocal about living with anxiety and being bipolar. They remarked that knowing someone willing to speak about their experiences helped them to seek assistance for their own troubles. I wish it were that easy, though.

Social media has put me in contact with a wider circle of people living with mental health disorders and others who act as advocates for the many. For every story of a successful battle against these troubles, there’s someone else who is terrified of letting society know that they have troubles such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, or what have you, because the threat of being treated differently is very real. Mental health issues continue to be equated with insanity, yes, but also violence. A person may be unwell and a danger to others without the correlation that they are a threat. A person suffering from mental illness is more likely to be abused than to be an abuser. A recent mass shooter was noted in an article as being bipolar, leaving the underlying thought that it may have been an influencer in his actions. Again, illness does not necessitate danger, but fear sells news. It is a way that stigma is perpetuated or reaffirming prejudices that such people are untrusted others.

I write and speak about my troubles, although I had curtailed it for several years. Pressure had become too great to ignore. I made too many people uncomfortable, so I dialed back. I no longer postes notes on Facebook about my troubles. I made fewer status updates. Things were becoming too much internally to deal with external criticisms. But, I cannot stay quiet. I am an introvert and increasingly solitary, but keeping these thoughts suppressed does more harm than good. So, I have resumed writing about my experiences. I need to invest time to writing regardless, so that I can improve atrophied skills in communication. One particular outlet that I have made use of is writing essays for the non-profit organization Stigma Fighters. You can submit an essay to them for publication, anonymously or publicly, regarding your experiences. It may be worth the time to search the site for essays on particular topics that you need to learn more of. Read people’s stories, articulate your own, and do whatever you must to express yourself positively to exorcise the negative. Thanks for reading and, as always, I hope to see you around again. Take care, my friends.

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