Winnie's Blog

Suffering the Stigma of Mental Health

Psycho, Schizo, Junkie, Lazy, Selfish?

Just imagine: You arrive at the doctor?s office after months of suffering and grappling with your symptoms. You are sick and scared, only to be told you have cancer? diabetes ? or heart disease. You will need ongoing treatment for your new illness or you could die or at best, seriously impair your quality of life.

But, you are told there is just one problem. No one ? or at least not very many people - will believe that you really have this diagnosis. Your family members will say you are just seeking attention. Your co-workers will say you are just trying to get out of work (again), your "ex? will say you always were a loser.

We can?t even fathom such a scenario and yet EVERY DAY this happens to people suffering with mental illness. For those suffering with anxiety disorders, clinical depression and personality disorders etc. society can be an impatient and unsupportive caregiver.

?The person who can?t get out of bed filled with sadness is told: "Stop being so selfish. There are people who have it way worse than you do. Snap out of it.?

?The person who can?t concentrate long enough to complete a simple job is told: "You are lazy and just expect people to look after you.?

?The person who experiences mood swings to be told: "We?re tired of your moodiness. You?re bringing us down. You can choose to be happy, it is a choice.?

?The person battling addictions is told: "You choose that lifestyle and just have no will power. You only care about yourself.?

No one suffering with a mental illness can just stop feeling what they are feeling by wishing.

Pippa Wysong writes in Canadian Living article "The Top 10 Mental Health Myths? "There are multiple types of mental illness, each with its own features and underlying causes?each mental illness is a variation on the theme of brain chemistry gone awry, affecting things like mood and perception. But each of these illnesses has its own specific causes, features and approaches to treatment.?

Just like the person suffering from cancer, diabetes or heart disease, mental illness is a real sickness. Sadly, it is an illness that inconveniences others and makes them uncomfortable, resulting in the sufferer not only feeling out of control of their emotions and responses- but GUILTY too. Often times they also face rejection, intimidation and alienation. How tragic.

If you know or love someone suffering like this, wipe away the stigma and extend a hand of understanding and compassion. It might be the only gift you can give them.

By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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Principles for Real Living:

  1. I am responsible for my own attitude
  2. My attitude affects my actions
  3. I can not change others, but I can influence others
  4. My emotions do not control my actions
  5. Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
  6. Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world

Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008