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Thursday, August 11, 2011

We Need To Change The Dialogue On Mental Illness

Time to change the dialogue on mental illness.
When you hear that someone has a mental illness, what are your thoughts? Are you afraid of them, wary or do you try to avoid them? Millions of people in the world suffer from some form of mental illness. Many of them seek treatment, get a plan, follow it and wind up managing their disease and lead normal productive lives. However, there is that stigma - "He has a mental illness." We need to change the dialogue on mental illness. 

I need to start off with a few disclosures. I am not a medical or psychiatric professional. I am a consumer - which means I have been diagnosed with several mental illnesses and I am currently under a treatment plan. I have been diagnosed with ADD/ADHD, Bipolar Disorder and Anxiety Disorder.

The genesis of this article came from a book I read on ADD/ADHD. Its author hated the term Attention Deficit Disorder. Two of the three words were negative. Deficit implies something is lacking. Disorder implies that something is not right. While the reality of ADD/ADHD is that most billionaires, rock stars, entertainers, artists, inventors, politicians, sports athletes and more all have ADD/ADHD. Their brains work differently than other people's brains. It's not an illness. It's not a disease. Once you understand it, ADD/ADHD is a gift. Not many people who have been diagnosed with a mental illness feel the same way.

Mental illness consumers are very aware of the stigma that goes with a diagnosis. Media doesn't help, especially with the cop shows. Every time they're looking for a criminal they throw in, "I think he has a mental illness and he stopped taking his medications." That's trouble, right? Hide the children. Lock your doors. Live in your basement. Someone has a mental illness.

I have a good friend Jim (not his real name) who I met through Recovery International. We have become great friends, mainly because we both understand what we face with our diagnosis. Jim was diagnosed with Schizophrenia when he was in the military in 1979. He has been under treatment since then. He's been compliant. He managed to get a government job and worked there for 28 years, retiring a few years ago.

Jim is a relatively normal guy. He owns a home. It's clean. He took up the drums several years ago and plays well. He also took up the trumpet a few years back and plays in several community bands. But he has that societal label that follows him around. When people find out that he has a mental illness, he gradually becomes ostracized from social groups. It's sad.

My argument centers around the word "illness." Jim has a mental illness, but he's managing it well. When you say he has an illness, that implies that he is sick, even though he functions better than about 90% of the people I know who don't have mental illnesses - or haven't been diagnosed.

I want to eliminate the word illness and replace it with "condition." Jim has a mental condition. It's under control. Those two statements take the bite out of mental illness. Jim is no longer viewed as sick.

I have my conditions. I take my meds. I'm not quite sure what they do. I've run out and gone as long as a month without them because I couldn't afford them and I didn't notice a single change. However, as long as I take meds, see a psychiatrist, work with a psychiatric therapist and go to mental illness support groups, I'm still lurking under the shadow of the stigma.

Today, I'm a very high functioning individual. I maintain three blogs and am gradually building an Internet business that is more suited to my ADD/ADHD creativity and work habits. I have a condition and it's under control. Say that with me... "I have a condition and it's under control." Doesn't that sound a lot better than dropping the mental illness bomb on someone?

We all have challenges with our conditions. Some are more severe than others. Some can be handled with quality talk therapy. Some require regular treatments that could involve injections or other more drastic measures. But we all want to get well. We all want to become part of society, function, be productive, find joy, experience happiness, and be loved. When you're sick with an illness, those things seem miles away. However, you can do it if all you have is a condition.

I'm not trying to minimize the severity of someone's condition. I'm trying to get them to think that wellness is not a dream but a reality. And I want them to be able to go out and have a conversation that might include their condition and not have it slap a big M.I. on their forehead.

It's obvious that I have no shame about my conditions. I write about it all the time and thousands of people have come to my blog are aware of my conditions. Yes, I have several conditions, but they're under control. Say that again... "I have several conditions and they're under control." Now let's get on with living.

The stigma of mental illness is an additional burden that a consumer has to deal with. If we can eradicate the illness part of mental conditions from the public speak we have made some progress. We need to change the dialogue on mental illness, and it starts by understanding you have a condition and you will get to the point where you will manage it. And then you can get on with your life.

Related articles on this site:
Five Steps To Recovery From Mental Illness
Recovery From Mental Illness Should Include Groups
Mental Illness | My Psychiatrist Says My Mental Health Is Improving
The Stigma Of Mental Illness
Mental Illness | Mentally Ill Live Lives Of Quiet Shame, Anger Or Pain
Mental Illness | Catherine Zeta-Jones Treated For Bipolar II Disorder
How To Sleep Better By Using A Relaxation Technique
Mental Illness | Dealing With Symptoms of Panic Attacks And Anxiety Disorder
Guide To Using Phenobarbital To Commit Suicide | Prevention

On my other site:
Mental Illness | My Psychatrist Is Retiring. He's Tired Of Listening.

Related links:
Panic Attacks - Wikipedia
Panic Disorder - PubMed Health
Generalized Anxiety Disorder - PubMed Health
Recovery International

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