Mental health remains a Taboo

Mental health remains a Taboo

Ant’s quote is spot on regarding the way in which mental health is discussed (or better yet, the lack of its discussion in some settings). There are many individuals, families, and organizations (for-profit & non-profit) that have began discussions of mental health. In order to create the change that needs to occur for the advancement of our society, these discussions need not stop or waver when frustrations and challenges arise.

By remaining conscientious of mental health in our personal lives and having an awareness of the policies that further impact the access to treatment, we as a society can create lasting change.

Educate, Empower, & Recover…. OH MY!

Yesterday, I experienced an interesting moment.
I notified someone, who holds a dear place in my heart, that I will be working with adults who experience severe mental illness next year during my internship. I expected the responses “congratulations” or “that’s awesome”. However, I received those responses and something more: “I hope it doesn’t rub off on you”.

                                 This comment does not stem from ignorance.
                     The comment stems from a lack of knowledge and fear.

First of all, let me state that this individual did not mean the comment to be demeaning or stigmatizing. Yet, the comment got me thinking about the number of people who may also have a similar belief; the belief that mental illnesses are contagious. This idea is beyond inaccurate.

Honestly, the comment caught me off guard. I did not know whether to be upset, angry, or happy. I was upset at the amount of misunderstanding that people with a mental illness experience daily. I was angry at the stigma that is direct towards me and others who work within the mental healthcare system, in addition to those who receive mental health services. And, simultaneously, I was happy.

I felt an odd level of happiness at the comment, “I hope it doesn’t rub off on you”, because the comment provided me with information. The information I gained from hearing this comment is that there remains a need to inform communities and family members about mental illness. The comment has provided me with an opportunity to educate, as well as advocate.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI, 2013) and the American Psychiatric Association (APA, 2012), mental illnesses are conditions that can disturb an individual’s thoughts, feelings, mood, interpersonal skills, and daily functioning. Mental illnesses impact people of all ages, socioeconomic status, race, and religion. Severe mental illnesses include major depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders [such as obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)], and borderline personality disorder.

“Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weaknesses,
lack of character, or poor upbringing”
(NAMI, 2013).

I can not stress enough: recovery from mental illness is possible. Although there are genetic aspects to mental illnesses, as there is with the development of cancerous cells, mental illnesses are NOT contagious like the cold or flu.

 

For more information regarding the mental illnesses mentioned above, please visit the resources listed below:

— American Psychiatric Association (APA). (2012). www.psychiatry.org/mental-health.
— Let’s Talk Facts Brochures. (2005). American Psychiatric Association.
          www.psychiatry.org/mentalhealth/lets-talk-facts-brochures.
— National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI). (2013). www.nami.org
— What is Major Depression. (2013). National Alliance on Mental Illness. 
          http://www.nami.org/factsheets/depression_factsheet.pdf

A story of a Musician, Bipolar disorder, & Depression

Since it is Mental Health Awareness Month, I figured now would be a perfect time to share this with you:

Michael Angelakos is the singer, songwriter, and producer of a band called Passion Pit. Michael is also an individual who has been diagnosed with bipolar disorder and depression. He shares his experiences of the mental illness’ symptoms and his process through recovery.

On May 3, 2013, Michael was awarded the Beatrice Stern Media Award at the Erasing the Stigma Leadership Awards.

Please click on the link to learn more about Michael’s experiences with mental illness. — http://consequenceofsound.net/2013/05/passion-pit-michael-angelakos-honored-for-efforts-in-mental-health-awareness/

Erasing stigma is not only a one-person job. Each of us, together, can dismantle stigma’s grip on our society. 

MAY is Mental Health Awareness Month

MAY is Mental Health Awareness Month!

Wear lime green this month to show the world your support and advocacy for mental health.

I advocate for my mother, my cousins, my sister, my grandparents, my friends, and myself. I advocate for those that are too often ignored by society: the homeless who also experience psychological symptoms/episodes and for the children who are simply misunderstood in school for being “weird” or “different”. Mental health is held close to my heart because it impacts so many of us on multiple levels (ie. individually, as a community, as people of this world, economically, physically, and spiritually).

Let’s continue the discussion about mental health so we can dismantle stigma from our society!

1 in 4 American families are impacted by a mental illness
1 in 17 American adults have a mental illness

These statistics include mothers, fathers, siblings, sons, daughters, aunts, uncles, cousins, & dearest friends. Share your experiences with the world…

 

We can make a difference together! Stand tall & strong for mental health!

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Resources:
About Depression Facts: http://www.aboutdepressionfacts.com/category/depression-facts
California Council of Community Mental Health Agencies: http://www.cccmha.org/
Children of Parents with Mental Illness: http://www.copmi.net.au
Connecting with People: Promoting Emotional Resiliency & Suicide Mitigation: http://connectingwithpeople.org/
Healthy Place: America’s Mental Health Channel: http://www.healthyplace.com/Mental Health America: http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net
National Alliance on Mental Illness: http://www.nami.org

Mental illness impacts the family system, too!

A diagnosis of a biological ailment, such as cancer or diabetes, is easier for a family to understand in comparison to a mental health diagnosis.

 

           My parent’s diagnosis of depression was not clearly explained to my sibling or me. I did not understand that it was the dark depths of my parent’s depressive episodes that kept them in bed—not that they didn’t love me. I did not understand there was no dinner some nights because the depression suppressed my parent’s appetite—not because they didn’t want to feed me. I didn’t know that when my parent had a migraine, it was because of the depressive symptoms—not because I was talking too much. I also did not realize that when my parent felt ill, and therefore missed a day or two of work, that those missed work days would enhance the financial stress my parent, and thus I, would experience once the following paycheck arrived in the mail.

 

I was not alone in these experiences.

 

          A mental illness affects 1 in four American families. This statistic makes sense once we take into consideration that 1 in 17 American adults have a mental illness diagnosis, such as depression, an anxiety disorder, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Many more people may be undiagnosed, for a number of reasons. These statistics include fathers, mothers, grandparents, sons, daughters, and siblings.

 

These statistics do not include the very children who are both directly and indirectly impacted emotionally, psychologically, and sometimes physically within the family.

 

          As an adolescent, I associated my parent’s behavior with how much they loved me. If I had knowledge about what depression was and how it would be affecting my parent at a younger age, the information would have enhanced my understanding of the illness and increased my compassion for my parent. Being able to identify my parent’s depressive symptoms in my adolescent years would have allowed me to differentiate between the parent I truly loved from the depression I began to despise.

 

 Mental illness also impacts families on a broader scope regarding how the family interacts with systems such as employment and pharmacology, to name a few.

 

           The days my parent didn’t go to work, due to not having the energy or ability to get out of bed, prevented the paychecks from being the same amount as their fellow employee. A smaller paycheck meant less money for food, school supplies, and the requirement to decide paying the mortgage or the electric bill. Although the smaller paychecks allowed my sibling and I to spend more time with our grandparents, I soon began to rely on them for meals and laundry soap.

 

          The smaller paychecks also impacted my parent’s interactions with the pharmaceutical business. After paying the necessary bills and buying groceries, some times there was no money available to purchase their antidepressant medication. The missed days from work also increased my parent’s stress level. The consistent high stress levels my parent experienced also negatively impacted their physical health; a high release of cortisol over time decreases an individual’s immune system efficiency. Hence, my parent would also become physically sick and miss more days from work. This cycle could not last forever. 

 

          Mental illness, such as depression, also impacts the relationships within the family. As I nurtured a level of understanding and a compassion for my parent, I witnessed the dismantling of some relationships within the immediate family. The relationships suffered from a lack of knowledge in combination with combating communication styles.

 

As I attempted to demonstrate, mental illness, both diagnosed and undiagnosed, impacts the family. Even though matters within my family are not perfect, I am glad to say that they have improved over time and from an immense amount of understanding from all members involved.

 

          Mental illness affects each family differently and similarly. Each family is different because each family is its own entity. The similarity is in the process; the process in which families adapt to change and challenges by building resiliency. The ways an individual comes to accept a diagnosis (physical or psychological) does not end with the individual.

 

Rather, the process continues with the family. The individual does not progress towards recovery alone; the family moves towards recovery together, as one.

 

A diagnosis is not an end-all; it is an opportunity for the family to grow.

 

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In an alternate universe…

As I brain stormed ideas for this blog entry, a Twilight Zone episode continued to consume my thoughts:

        A woman wakes up in the hospital with her face bandaged. The nurse (whose face you don’t see) unwraps the bandages and screams. The nurse calls the doctor into the patient’s room. The doctor (whose face the audience also doesn’t see) states that the woman can not be healed or fixed. Next, the camera shows the audience the woman’s face. She is beautiful with flawless skin and a glowing complexion. The doctor then tells the nurse to call Them to pick p athe patient und take her away. After commercial break, the door to the patient’s hospital room opens and a man (that looks like Barbie’s Ken) walks into the room. He tells the woman patient, “Hello. I am bringing you to a land where people like us can be together and live in peace”. The patient willingly goes with this stranger without question. The camera then shows the audience the doctor’s and nurses’ faces: pig-like with noses that look like snouts. Although this Twilight Zone episode addresses the subjectivity of beauty and the ways in which society upholds the criteria for what is perceived as beautiful or not, this episode can relate to how mental illness is currently understood and perceived.

What if in an alternate universe, having a mental illness diagnosis was seen as a glamorous entity. In this alternate universe, people rush to psychiatrists, therapists, and clinics to be assessed for a mental illness. Having a mental illness diagnosis of depression, bipolar, or schizophrenia (to name a few) is normalized and accepted as a label that belongs to the majority. The individuals without a mental illness diagnosis are perceived as marginalized, lacking super-human capabilities, or as abnormal.

Would stigma still exist in this alternate universe? I believe yes, but in a different way than stigma exists in our society. Stigma would be internalized by those without a diagnosis, instead of by those who have one.

Would having a diagnosis provide the individual with access to special or desired resources? Probably so. Although in our current society, resources are provided to people with a mental illness diagnosis, many factors continue to interfere with the individual’s ability to actually have access to them. Some factors, to name a few, are healthcare (insurance or lack thereof), transportation, locations where services are provided, price & quality of such services, and shame/embarrassment that is experienced by many when acknowledging to family and friends that they have been diagnosed or exhibit the symptoms that warrant a diagnosis.

Would people be accused of ‘faking’ symptoms or behaviors in order to receive such a diagnosis in this alternate universe? Probably so. In any society where there is a created stratification based upon any innate (physical, biological) or socially constructed characteristics (racial, socioeconomic, gender, occupational), accusations of fraud will more than likely exist.

Even though our current society has a large prevalence of mental illness, individuals diagnosed with a mental illness are portrayed by the media (and from society’s choice in terminology) as ‘crazy’ or ‘deviant’. But in actuality, many are misunderstood and are at times, seen as having a characteristic fault.

We do not live in the alternate universe that I have described above. No, we do not. However, we can live in a society where we do not place judgement on others when life becomes difficult. We can change our current society into one that encourages sharing our struggles and challenges in order to strengthen each one of us. We can, together.

 

Infographic of Mental Illness Facts

Infographic of Mental Illness Facts

This is a wonderful infographic representing the prevalence of depression, bipolar, and schizophrenia throughout the United States. Mental Ilnness affects people of all ages and all cultural backgrounds.

1 in 17 Americans live with a serious mental illness
1 in 4 families have a relative that has a mental illness

We are all in some way impacted by mental illness.

Stand together to decrease stigma.

If you’d like to read more regarding USC’s MSW program &/or about the infographic presented above, please visit this link:  http://msw.usc.edu/mswusc-blog/facing-mental-illness-infographic/