A few months ago, my cousin came to our house to review and discuss the family history my husband had been writing. After reviewing the material, he made one request – leave out the part about his father’s bipolar disorder. In fact he didn’t want to see any discussion of any of the mental illness that permeates my side of our family.
That was proof enough for me that the stigma of mental illness still exists.
Although my husband did not mention our family’s mental illness in the history, I openly discussed my grandmother’s, uncle’s, and mother’s mental illness in my memoir, Leaving the Hall Light On, and that I believe that their genes passed on bipolar disorder to my son.
Genetics is one of the biological causes of mental illness; others could be brain defects or prenatal damage. There are also psychological and environmental causes that can trigger this illness if a person is susceptible. The more we know about the causes of mental illness and the more we are attuned to the fact that the unusual behaviors of mentally ill people are symptoms and not causes, the easier it will be to erase the stigma associated with it.
Stigma can exhibited in several ways: bullying, negative remarks, calling a mentally ill person crazy, portraying a mentally ill person as a sociopath or violent in films and television, or characterizing a mentally ill person as weak and stupid.
As Glenn Close, who has a sister with bipolar disorder and a nephew with schizoaffective disorder, says, “What mental health needs is more sunlight, more candor, more unashamed conversation about illnesses that affect not only individuals, but their families as well.” To that end she created the bringchange2mind organization https://bringchange2mind.org/. Its mission is:
1) Provide people who have misconceptions about mental illness quick and easy access to information that combats stigma
2) Provide people who have mental illness, and those who know them quick and easy access to information and support.
A recent Mayo Clinic article stated that progress has been made in removing the stigma of mental illness and mental health disorders, but agrees that it is still a real problem for people who have mental illness. I know what a problem it was for my son. He worked for almost two years for a internet provider, and when they heard of the reason for his death, his co-workers were shocked to know he had any illness whatsoever.
He was a master at hiding his bipolar symptoms. He didn’t want to take his meds, he didn’t accept needed hospitalizations, he just tired to act as “normal” as he could. And that is probably what killed him. If he had taken the Mayo Clinic’s advice geared to erasing stigma – admit something is wrong, don’t feel ashamed, seek and follow treatment and support, accept help from family and friends – he might still be alive today.Tags: bringchange2mind, bullying, Glenn Close, Leaving the Hall Light On, Mayo Clinic, mental illness, stigma