We last connected when I made an effort to explain why I think the criminal justice system fails those who suffer from mental illness. It fails many of us in so many ways, outside of the mental health piece, but it’s important to know what’s going on. Not just with the criminal justice system folks, but with many issues that affect your civil and human rights!
If you don’t care and you don’t use your voice, then you have no say. To not have a say in something that affects you is kind of sad. It’s unfortunate really. If more people spoke up and had the courage to fight for what they believe in, then maybe things would be different. Actually, I know they would. Your voice matters.
Over the last week, I asked three questions via Facebook Polls. Below are the questions, which include the number of respondents and the results. It is important to note that the results are not necessarily representative of everyone with whom I’m associated with on Facebook, yet still have significant value to what I’m trying to accomplish.
1) Do you OR someone you know struggle from a mental illness?
# of respondents 48
100% of people said yes
2) Do you honestly feel that you have the knowledge to understand how mental illness affects the brain?
# of respondents 44
13 people said yes 30%, 31 people said no 70%
3) If a friend or family member began talking about their mental illness, would you feel comfortable with the conversation?
# of respondents 48
47 people said yes 98%, 1 person said no 2%
What could these results mean? What might they say about the mental health stigma?
Let me first say that overall, there were about 50 people who responded to each question. That's a nice number to work with and it helps that the number of respondents wasn't so varied.
I think it's best if I just respond to each question separately, so here are my thoughts:
1) There was nothing surprising about these results. Now, because I was the one asking the question it is very likely that those who responded know me, and therefore know I struggle from mental illness. So you're thinking, "Duh, yes we know someone who struggles from mental illness because it's YOU, and YOU post about it." I get this. Maybe a silly question, but after talking to Sarah about it, she said that ya'll probably knew what I was asking and likely assumed you knew someone other than me, who struggled with mental illness OR it was you who struggled so that's what your response meant. Now, Question #1 was a two-part question really. The only way of knowing which part each person responded to would be to ask them. I have not done that. That is not something I'm doing at this point.
The results were clear: 100% of you (48 people) said YES. You either struggle from a mental illness and/OR you know someone who does. POINT: We are all affected by mental illness whether we choose to be or not. You may not be the one with the mental illness, but you know someone who does. You may be that friend or family member that is trying to figure out how to support someone with a mental illness. You may be that person's husband or wife. It's also possible that you have no idea how to help them. But don't worry, we'll figure that out. First, let's just recognize that mental illness is real.
2) I was not surprised by these results either. The truth of the matter is, we don't know much about mental illness. I do think that those who are diagnosed with it certainly learn more because a formal diagnosis teaches you something, but you'd be surprised by the illnesses and conditions that we may suffer from, yet never care to know more about. Sure, some of us just don't care, but I don't believe that's usually the case. There are thousands of people who go undiagnosed for so many reasons. It's fricken expensive! Seeing a psychotherapist, psychologist, or psychiatrist costs major moola! Not having insurance, or really crappy insurance, makes it more daunting to even find room for it in your budget. So, how do you choose between your mental health and putting food on the table, or paying your heat bill???!!! It's not as easy as you think to make that decision, especially if you're caring for others.
No one said you needed to know everything about depression or anxiety. Or schizophrenia or bipolar disorder. So just because you know someone who suffers from any mental illness doesn't mean you need to have all the answers. It's not your job too, unless of course you're in a profession that requires you too. I think we need to stop feeling pressured to learn it all. Yes, making an effort matters, especially if someone really close to you suffers. In my case, it is almost necessary for my wife to know what's going on with me. On those days where I'm simply not doing okay, I need her. It took us awhile to learn that, but she knows how to help me now. Most of the time it involves listening and an extraordinary level of compassion. Which we are all capable of. You may need to read some articles online to learn more about the panic attacks your spouse experiences, or how to handle suicidal thoughts that your teenager talks to you about, but ISN'T IT WORTH IT???!!! It doesn't take a medical degree to do these things. We can learn more by making more of an effort.
3) I was very surprised by the results of this question. My immediate thought was that, if there's this stigma that exists, than how can we be so sure that we're comfortable talking about it? Isn't the hesitation to talk about it part of the stigma? I would also respond YES to this question. I am always here to listen to those who want to talk to me about their struggles. Listening is a very important skill. But, listening doesn't eliminate stigma unless there is action. That action can be in many forms. For example, let's say you and this person (the one with the mental illness) were out to lunch with some friends. They are not aware of the mental illness. In conversation, the topic comes up and one of them says something offensive to you. Do you speak up and find a way to engage in a polite manner or do you ignore it? It's an uncomfortable situation to be in (trust me I know), but this is what allows a stigma to exist. This is only one example of a million others.
I needed to understand your responses better, so I did some reading. I learned that there are different levels of stigma: social stigma, self-stigma, and health professional stigma. I did not know this. In addition, there are dimensions of stigma: peril, origin, controllability, concealability, course, stability, disruptiveness, pity, and aesthetics.
How many of you thought stigma was just stigma? I did. There are so many reasons why a stigma exists. There are stigmas associated with drugs and alcohol, sexual assault, race, gender, sexual orientation, and the list goes on.
Stigma is a weird word. It just doesn't sit well when you say it. A mental health stigma definitely exists, and there's a lot we can do to change that. Maybe we just need to start with a different way of labeling it.
Thank you so much for your participation in my Facebook Polls. I enjoyed the interaction with you and it taught me a lot.
***In a future post I would like to feature some guest stories about others who are suffering from mental illness. It can be you or someone you know that you may want to reach out to. Regardless, these stories will remain anonymous. The point I want to make is that I'm not the only one. So, if you'd like to be included please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org
I just want all people to learn and grow together.