A way toward stigma reduction?

A blogging colleague of mine have been talking a little bit about stigma reduction associated with keeping mental illness symptoms associated with the illness itself rather than with the person. For example, the anxiety that I experience is a feature of my bipolar illness rather than some character defect or short-coming of my person. What if we were to try to represent and talk about mental illness symptoms as being features of the illness or diagnosis itself rather than characteristics of the person or the patient? By way of example, we do not think a breast cancer survivor is cancerous. Instead we say she has had cancer and fought it and is still fighting it and/or is in remission. The disease and its symptoms are not synonymous with the patient. In fact with cancer it is the other way around. People always talk about those people who are able to beat the illness cancer — it it not a part of who that person is but rather a fight to fight and to win and to overcome.

So why do we think of mental health symptoms as somehow the failure of the person experiencing the symptoms such as anxiety, depression, PTSD or some form of psychosis? When it’s mental we tend to assign the symptoms to the patient rather than to the illness. This person is anxious. This person is depressed. This person is psychotic. This makes overcoming the stigma of mental illness even tougher.

So what would it look like if we started talking about mental illness symptoms as part of the illness rather than part of the person experiencing them? It might make us more inclined to believe that getting over anxiety or depression or PTSD or psychosis is a matter of the treatment of the illness rather than the integrity of the patient or the person experiencing the symptoms.

What do you think? Do you think mental health patients are asked “to own” their symptoms in a way that cancer patients are not? Do you feel mental health stigma could be reduced if we were to more often disassociate mental health symptoms from the person experiencing them? Could mental illness be considered a challenge to fight and/or to get through like a cancer but not the result of some character defect on the part of the patient? Do we need ways of talking about mental health that include giving credit for actively working to keep symptoms under control and/or having them be in remission for a time? Do we need ways of talking about successes we have had in combatting our mental illness diagnoses even if those troubles still exist for us on some level? What of all this might help to address the stigma of mental illness?

If you had a wish list for your mental health, what would it look like?

Here goes nothing….

  1. I wish for psyche meds to be 100% therapeutic 100% of the time.
  2. I wish for no side effects to meds like drowsiness or weight gain or Type II Diabetes.
  3. I wish to recover all those times when I was emotionally inaccessible to those closest to me due to my bipolar illness condition – this is mostly having to do with family and definitely has to do with my daughter.
  4. I wish for my bipolar condition not to be genetically an issue for my daughter.
  5. I wish to undo any harm / make amends for any harm I have brought to people because of or during my bipolar condition.
  6. I wish for the stigma associated with mental illness and addiction in society to magically disappear.
  7. I wish for the United States to have a healthcare plan that covers everybody at a reasonable cost including pre-existing conditions and including mental health and addiction benefits.
  8. I wish for the covid-19 virus to become a thing of the past as quickly as possible since it has so many emotional components that impact my mental health and the mental health of others.
  9. I wish for a covid-19 vaccine in the next 4 to 6 weeks or better yet now.
  10. I wish for a support team for anyone experiencing any sort of mental health or addiction diagnosis / symptoms and that that support team is always there for you.
  11. I wish for everyone with mental illness or addiction issues to never feel alone or never feel separate from the rest of the world.
  12. I wish the world to embrace and include all people no matter what their diagnosis, skin color, religion, etc.
  13. I wish I could return to the weight I was when I married or close to it…..

What would your wish list look like?

My Sojourn through Bipolar Illness – Coming up Last on the Funding List?

Has behavioral health always been the red-headed step-child in terms of funding levels for medical research and treatment?

If the statistics on mental health and addiction were more widely publicized, would we begin to see more clearly the widening funding gap between dollars to treat and cure mental illness versus research and treatment dollars dedicated toward heart disease, diabetes or cancer?  Currently, while mental health and behavioral health including the opioid epidemic and addiction pose tremendous challenges, the funds and expertise to tackle behavioral health and addiction just aren’t forthcoming at the same rate say for cancer research or funding.  What would happen if we as a society could place as much money and effort into mental health and addiction research and treatment as we do into cancer?  The projected impacts would likely be enormous.

  1. For one we would have adequate beds to treat people who need inpatient care for behavioral health or addiction. 
  2. For another, we would have adequate funding to develop psychotropic drugs and other interventions without such severe side effects as weight gain and Type II Diabetes onset and memory loss. 
  3. Additionally, we would be treating war veterans for mental health or behavioral impacts that often can go untreated or undiagnosed.
  4. Fourthly, we would have enough resources to fund a Cohort Model of support for those in a crisis or post-crisis state. 
  5. Fifthly, with more co-mingling of people with and without a behavioral health or addiction diagnosis we might be able to reduce stigma substantially.
  6. Finally and most importantly, by being proactive in our behavioral health and addiction programs in the United States, we may be able to develop awareness of early warning signs among people struggling with mental health and addiction before their symptoms become dire. 

It only follows that research for and treatment of mental illness and addiction is proportional to the level of medical challenge that is presented with these diagnoses.