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Stigma is not healthy, it can kill


Posted: December 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.
Updated: December 1, 2013 2:00 a.m.

If you hear the words manic, depression or Bipolar what image does your mind conjure up?

For many people who don’t understand these mental health disorders, they may visualize someone in a straitjacket with a nurse shoving pills down their throat every day.

In reality, Bipolar disorder affects approximately 5.7 million Americans each year according to the National Institute of Mental Health - and I am one of them.

I was diagnosed at the age of 14 when my depression first hit. I didn’t understand the disease, nor did my parents. But since then we have continued to educate ourselves about the disorder.

Public opinion suggests that people with Bipolar Disorder are violent and crazy, that we have split personalities and are out of control. While there is some truth to this assumption, it isn’t nearly the whole story.

As described by the National Institute of Mental Health, Bipolar Disorder is “a brain disorder that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and affects the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks” caused by brain structure and functioning, along with genetics.

Imaging studies have shown the difference in the brain between people with Bipolar and people with healthy brains.

There are different categories of Bipolar as well; the most common being Bipolar 1 and Bipolar II.

Bipolar I is defined by manic or mixed episodes of mania lasting for a few weeks with fewer episodes of depression; Bipolar II is defined by a pattern of extended, major depressive episodes with no full blown manic episodes.

The suicide rates are higher for people with Bipolar II.

While there is no cure for Bipolar, there are effective treatment options. This is a lifelong illness that requires continuous treatment to control symptoms.

Personally, I take a combination of medications that help stabilize me as well as participate in cognitive therapy. It took me almost two years to become stabilized for my Bipolar II as trials with medication take time.

Before treatment, I was a completely different person. I didn’t understand my racing thoughts, excitement phases or depressive episodes.

And suffering from depression is the most difficult thing I’ve ever dealt with in my life. The severe depression swallows you; you nearly feel as if you’re drowning in quicksand – and all the while, you don’t even want to grab the hand that’s out to help you.

The depression is physically debilitating and mentally exhausting. Every day I struggled just to get out of bed to feed my dogs or to go to work - and I love my job.

Now that I am stabilized, however, I have no problem managing day to day tasks, and I feel great pleasure in life. I take my medications religiously, because I know without them – I’d be dead.

My medication allows me to live and to breathe – no different than someone who is a diabetic and takes insulin.

Yet there is such a punishing stigma that comes with mental illness.

What if someone told you they didn’t believe in cancer or diabetes? You would laugh in their face! Well, these are thing that people say every day about mental illness - because they simply aren’t willing to understand it.

I get the lack of understanding, I really do. It’s hard to imagine a brain being broken if you can’t see it - but it is real and it is scientifically proven.

We need to break the stigma associated with mental health illnesses. Because of the stigma there are millions of people who are afraid to admit they have a mental disorder for fear of what others will think – and then go untreated.

Every day there are people who refuse to accept they were born with a mental disorder so they don’t take their medications. These people spiral out of control and eventually become incredibly self-destructive and suicidal.

In 2010, suicide was the tenth leading cause of death in the United States per the Centers for Disease Control.
It breaks my heart when I think of how many people are suffering from their mental illnesses simply because there is such stigma that they do not get help.

I have been living with mental illness for twelve years and have become very accepting of and comfortable with it.

It isn’t going away; I don’t want to choose to suffer so I take my medication.

I lead a very successful life, which many people struggling with Bipolar do. I work full time, go to college and take care of a household.

Because of my willingness to be open about it, I am thriving.

My dream is to open the door for people suffering from mental illness and create a world where it is safe to talk about mental illness for everyone. If we can eliminate this stigma, we save people from suffering and more importantly, we save lives.



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