Archive for July, 2015

stigma: a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something (Webster).

stigmata – marks resembling the wounds on the crucified body of Christ. wound, lesion – an injury to living tissue (especially an injury involving a cut or break in the skin) (Free Dictionary)

So far as I’m concerned, one of the biggest problems with mental illness, and a tremendous barrier to seeking help, is the stigma associated with it. Julian Seifter put it this way:

You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.

To the outside world, mental illness is a stigma. But to those of us who see it from the inside, it is indeed stigmata: that is, an injury to living tissue. Specifically, our hearts and our brains. And though we often forget this simple truth, the fact remains that we are not our illness. I have depression—I am not depression itself. Although sometimes, when I’m in the depths of darkness, “and Grief, fierce and omnipotent, Plants his black banner on my drooping skull,” (Baudelaire), it feels that way.

stigma1

The committee of which I am a part (Strong DPACC) works towards removing the stigma associated with mental illness, as do many other fine organizations such as Mental Health America, the Mental Health Association in my city of Rochester, NY, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

But it’s an uphill battle, in that so many people still view all mental illnesses as meaning there’s something wrong morally with you. This view has been prevalent for so long in so many Western societies that even some churches discourage or even forbid their members from getting the treatment they so desperately need, preferring instead to pray their way to a cure. And some, like the pseudo-religion known as Scientology, go so far as to call for the abolition of psychiatry and psychology as practices.

But there is hope. Those of us who are afflicted with mental illness are starting to take a stand against the discrimination and stigmatization of our conditions. We are starting to push back against the insurance industry, which far too often limits the number of visits to a therapist they’ll pay for. That’s like telling someone with acute appendicitis, “We’ll pay for removing your appendix, but we won’t cover any post-operative care.”

So if you suffer from a mental illness, or know someone who does, don’t give up hope! We’re here, we care, and we will never stop fighting for what’s right!

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dementors

The thing about the popularity of the Harry Potter books and films is that pretty much everybody who has seen or read them understands memes based on them. J.K. Rowling’s quote on depression is spot-on to anyone who has ever had to deal with this debilitating, crippling, and sometimes fatal disease.

And that’s why I’ve decided that the tagline for this blog is “Battling Dementors Since Birth.” My depression is genetic: I inherited it from my mother, who inherited it from her father, and so on back as far as the family can trace its heritage. My two brothers each suffer from it in varying degrees, and so do my daughters.

This is a blog about mental illness, the stigmas attached to it, and society’s slowly-changing attitudes to those of us who deal with it on a day-to-day basis.

Who Am I, And What Qualifies Me to Speak on Mental Illness?

A fair question. I am a 65-year-old grandmother of three who has been cursed from the womb with messed-up brain chemistry. As much as I hate it, the fact is that depression is a central pivot in my life, around which all other aspects of my life revolve. And while I generally manage to keep leashed what Winston Churchill (another noted sufferer of depression) referred to as “the black dog,” sometimes the bitch slips her leash and takes over.

My qualifications to speak on this illness is based on my degree from the College of Been There, Done That, Got The Scars to Prove It. In other words, unless something you read here is clearly identified as a quote from another source, and the source is cited, everything else is based on my own experiences and education. In other words, YMMV (Your Mileage May Vary). What works for me might not work for you. We’re all different, right? So all I’m saying is, “Hey! This worked for me. It might be something that will help you, or it might not.”

I am also a mental health advocate. I am a member of the University of Rochester Medical Center Department of Psychiatry Advisory Council of Consumers (DPACC), which has as its mission statement the following:

The Department of Psychiatry Advisory Council of Consumers is comprised of departmental leaders, peer leaders and families and friends of Strong Behavioral Health consumers. DPACC discusses ideas related to quality initiatives across its services and provides a forum for the department to hear feedback from a consumer perspective. By partnering with consumers, the recipients of services, we will ensure respectful and dignified treatment using the medical and recovery models.

Which is a fancy way of saying that as consumers of mental health care in this particular setting, we offer advice and suggestions for improving patient and family care in the Psychiatry Department. But more than that, our ideas and suggestions are listened to, and quite often implemented as hospital policy.

In fact, just this morning, a few of us from DPACC spoke to the incoming class of new psychiatric nurses and technicians as part of their orientation to the department. And Wednesday, we’ll be speaking to a new class of nurses in general. I always enjoy these sessions, especially the question-and-answer sessions that come afterwards.

I’ll Shut Up Now

I know your time is valuable, so I don’t want to overwhelm you with too much information. (I’ll do that later, after I’ve hooked you and gotten you addicted to reading what I have to say! [Cue evil chuckle])

So thanks for stopping by. I do appreciate the time you chose to waste spend with me. I’m going to try to set up an RSS feed for the blog, so you don’t have to keep checking back to see if there have been any updates.

Anyway, until next time!

Robyn Jane