Hello. My name is……

The Associated Press released an article today regarding President Obama’s desire to “end the stigma of mental illness”.  Yes!!!!  Obama made public his intentions at a conference that was actually organized to discuss the Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings.  Attending the conference was actor Bradley Cooper, who recently portrayed to high acclaim a man suffering with bipolar disorder.  Also in attendance was Glenn Close, who has recently been seen with her bipolar sister in television commercials promoting awareness of mental illness.  The National Association of Broadcasters has announced its new campaign to promote positive awareness of mental illness through a series of TV commercials, radio ads and other social media outlets.  On a personal level, Ms. Close helped to start an organization called “Bring Change 2 Mind”.  This non-profit group produces public service announcements designed to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness.

President Obama is quoted as saying his goal in hosting the conference is to “bring mental illness out of the shadows”.  He commented that, “We whisper about mental health issues and avoid asking too many questions…..  There should be no shame in discussing or seeking help for treatable illnesses that affect too many people that we love.  We’ve got to get rid of that embarrassment.  We’ve got to get rid of that stigma”.  I have previously quoted author Terri Cheney in several past posts, loving what she says about how “disease thrives on shame, and shame thrives on silence”.  Obama gets that.  He recognizes that in order to reduce the stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness, we have to open up.  We have to promote awareness.  We have to talk about our disorders.  We have to show the public that there should be no shame in mental illness, and to do that we must not remain silent.

Part of President Obama’s health care initiative includes improvements to mental health coverage.  In fact, next year there will be a ban on denying coverage to people suffering with mental illness.  Public spending on services to aid the mentally ill has been greatly reduced in recent years, leading to closures of psychiatric hospitals and a reduction in care available to patients who need it the most.  It is commonly believed that until community services intended to help the mentally ill can be funded by the government, the stigma will remain.  Vice President Biden was quoted as saying, “Think of the irony here if through your great efforts, we encourage people to come forward and they find out there’s no one there to help them or they have to wait a long time”.  It reminds me of the line from the movie, “Field of Dreams”:  “If you build it, they will come”.  If the government provides federally funded assistance to patients suffering with mental illness, they will step forward.  They will emerge out of “the shadows”.  And perhaps they will do so shamelessly, as they should.

Bringing someone like Bradley Cooper on board is a great move.  He may not be directly affected himself by bipolar disorder or another mental illness as was his character in “Silver Linings Playbook”, but for those of us who are shallow (as I am) and easily influenced by a handsome man in a well-tailored suit, he could by a great spokesmodel.  He’s been actively promoting awareness of mental illness for several months and is publicly acknowledging that it had been part of his life without realizing it.  He says he has friends who have suffered silently for years who finally worked up the courage to come forward following his Oscar-nominated portrayal of a bipolar man re-emerging into society following a short stint at a psychiatric hospital.

But even Bradley, Glenn and Barack can’t do this without some public support.  And that’s where we come in.  We need to start speaking up.  How many of our friends don’t know that we suffer?  How many of us are silent?  How many of us don’t publicly admit that we have a mental illness?  Silence breeds shame.  We need to not worry what our neighbors would think if they knew we have mental diseases.  We have to stop living in the shadows of the stigma, and step forward and admit that we are ill and need public resources to help us to get better.

I’ll go first:

Hello.  My name is Cecily, and I am bipolar.

There.  That wasn’t so bad.  Your turn.

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13 thoughts on “Hello. My name is……

  1. You’re right about the need to end stigma. It is actually a form of discrimination that we endure out of the shame to stand up and fight for our rights. Events like Sandy Hook and Aurora are so sensationalized that it is hard to overcome the damage a careless media does. The spectrum of our illnesses are so broad that the general public has no idea how to differentiate one illness from another. My wife is still embarrassed for people to learn her husband is ill. I’m not embarrassed by my illness but because of the ignorance of the majority of people I am cautious with my disclosure. That said, I have this blog in my own name so I’m not really hiding either.
    Hello. My name is Kevin and I have bipolar disorder.

    • Lovely to meet you, Kevin. I love that you say you’re not “embarrassed by my illness……. but are cautious with my disclosure”. I completely agree with your assessment. I am no more embarrassed by my illness than I would be about diabetes or cancer. But society doesn’t react the same way to a bipolar patient as they would to someone admitting to having diabetes or cancer – there is no sympathy or willingness to help. There is caution on their end, as well. Mostly, I believe, because of ignorance. And why is there ignorance? My belief is the media and their misrepresentation of such serious diseases as mental illnesses. That’s why it’s so important to be honest and truthful. We aren’t going to help anyone by hiding. Thank you for your thoughtful and intelligent comments.

      • It must have eaten your first comment because this is the first one I saw. So glad you reposted!

        First of all, THANK YOU for making yourself known. I’m delighted to meet you.

        Secondly, I just watched the speech. Thank you for the suggestion. I based my comments on an Associated Press article, but the real deal was so much better. I cried with tears of joy that someone like Obama is finally recognizing “us”.

        Lastly, I look forward to reading your post. Thank you so much for sharing your link with me. I’m always honored to read anything written by other bipolar writers because it gives me such good perspective.

        Thank you again for your response. I very much look forward to following your blog.

  2. Bravo! Pleased to meet you, bipolar Cecily!

    My name is Mark and for most of my life I have been suffering from chronic major depression and anxiety. I had for so long never wanted to see what was wrong with me because I had been trained by society to fear/reject/ignore mental illness and didn’t want to be ‘one of those people’. I AM one of those people. I have lost so much over the past decades because of a mental illness I wouldn’t see and couldn’t understand. Heck, I’m even still living with a woman who refuses to accept the reality of it and mocks me for contacting a psychiatrist who put me on medications that brought me back from a familiar place of utter despair, a hole in which I considered never emerging from again.

    I’m sick. I’ve done everything in my life to fight my problems with everything I’ve got, but this beast of burden is likely mine to do battle with for the rest of my life. By ‘outing’ myself, and through the actions of those whose public profiles are much larger than mine, I hope to feel less of a burden as the stigma of mental illness is gradually worn down.

    • Hi, Mark. I’m delighted to hear from you. I, too, am “one of those people”. We will be saddled with mental illness for the rest of our lives. It doesn’t go away, it hides and re-emerges at its own will. We can be responsible sufferers and take our meds and see our therapists and do what we can to keep it at bay, but it will always be there. But it doesn’t have to be a curse. We can work hard to manage our illnesses and use our experiences to reach out and help others, to make them aware, to reduce the stigma associated with mental illness. I’m so happy that you’ve emerged from your hole. I hope that your “familiar place” becomes one of utter happiness and well-being, and that your “utter despair” remains in the background of your life, and feeling you are able to manage through medication, therapy and pride in your accomplishments.

      Good luck, Mark. I appreciate that you took the time to respond.

      • Thanks for the thoughtful reply. I really enjoy reading others’ personal thoughts.

        Update: my 75 mg of nortryptyline, 0.4 mg of alprazolam, and sleeping pill are suiting me just fine, thank you very much. I’m not at all suicidal, I have a lot of energy, which I’m investing in running, swimming, gardening, my FT job and my freelance work. Feeling very grateful right now.

        I can’t, however, say that I’m experiencing feelings of ‘happiness’ and still find the notion of such a thing highly specious! But I’ll keep pursuing it.

        Hope you are well, Cecily!

      • Thank you, and since I’m no longer in the strangling grip of the big D, I’d have to agree with you. To see how I make myself stronger (aside from taking the meds to help my brain), please wander over to my running and nutrition blog [http://barefeetandrawfood.wordpress.com].

        And, thankfully, she’s not my wife. That would be an even bigger mess to deal with here in Japan! We’re parting ways soon, somewhat agreeably, with occasional bumps. It’s a bitter-sweet thing, but I need to focus on me now, and I can’t be with someone who could kick me and laugh at me when I’m down.

  3. Hi Cecily! I found your blog via your comment on Glennon’s post yesterday about her Tedx talk – wasn’t it amazing? I’m very happy for you that you’ve decided to stand up to stigma by writing about living with bipolar disorder. It’s not an easy road that we travel, but we do have a different perspective on the world, and we’re able to teach people who don’t live with mental illness what it’s like to see the world through our glasses. Brilliant, sparkling, but also sometimes dull and dark. I’m excited to follow your journey. Keep writing.

    • Hi! Thanks for responding. I’m new to “Momastery” and all things Glennon, but I was an instant fan. I find her honesty and candor to be very inspiring. I’ve received such positive response to my blog, and I’m delighted and honored to learn that other bipolar individuals are stepping forward and speaking up as a result. This is exactly the result I was hoping for when I first began writing. Thanks very much for your sweet reply.

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