Sunday, September 7, 2008

Firefighters Story - Stigmatism

I am going to touch briefly on stigmatism in this writing. As we all know, there is an endless amount of stories and examples of stigmatism that surround being 1 in 5 and having a mental health issue. I will write extensively about this subject, now and in future writings, as there are too many examples and details to be covered in just one writing. The reason I feel the need to touch on this subject in this writing, is that AGAIN this week I was "labelled" as I will call it. I can say, from past experiences, and there are many, is that it really really hurts! We who are 1 in 5 know this all too well. This is one of the many reasons I continue to write about mental health, as the issue of stigmatism needs to be addressed and changed, immediately, and everyone, patients and the public must realize this. By speaking openly, honestly, we can try to change this. It MUST change and in order to do this the public must be educated, and this campaign to raise awareness is a start.
As someone who has a mental illness, and I say "has" because as my doctor says, I am still "fresh" in my recovery, I, like others, am sick and tired of all the stupid often very degrading comments. Speaking from experience, everytime I heard someone try to make light of having a mental condition, it had a profound effect on my recovery while in therapy. While in therapy, and a long time prior to beginning therapy, when I kept my problems a "secret" from everyone in order NOT to be labelled and ostrasized, I was extremely terrified of being made fun of and being thought of as being beneath others because I did have a mental health issue and was very sick. This still continues now, and as if we(patients-those afflicted) don't have enough to worry about, the last thing we all need is to be labelled unfairly and dragged down due to peoples total ignorance.
In my opinion, and I'm fairly certain this is shared very widely, the public needs and has to be educated and the awareness raised significantly regarding mental health issues. That's why the campaign with Mr Alfredsson and the "1 in 5" and "You Know Who I Am" is so important.
I know that I was really scared after being diagnosed, and for a number of reasons that you might relate to. The great unknown, as in my total lack of education and understanding of mental health, and what was wrong with me once I was diagnosed. I was reeling from my diagnosis because I didn't know or understand not only what it meant for me and my future, but also there was this scary question I asked myself of "Am I going to be okay?", What's going to happen to me now?, and How am I going to be able to handle all of my problems I was experiencing?", but I also thought to myself that if I thought I was alone before, now I'm really alone, because if it ever transpired that people found out (all of the fire department did in my case) that I was sick with a mental health issue, they would run away from me as fast as they could because of the words "mental health sickness or issue".
I think that people make jokes about people with mental health issues or sickness because of their ignorance, the great unknown, and because they are scared. You often hear people saying derogatory remarks about "being off your meds" and many more just like it. They have this picture that society has helped to foster, and it is engrained in peoples minds about someone "losing it" and going off like a cannon, or being unsafe due to the patient/person being totally unpredicatble and dangerous. It is this lack of knowledge and stereotypical picture that has been painted regarding the whole realm of mental health that can/has helped to further destoy our lives(us who are 1 in 5), and our families also.
From my experience, family members, friends, co-workers distance themselves from you. They don't know how to handle you, what to say, how to act, and I'm sure you could come up with alot more of your own reasons from your own individual experiences.
This boils down to and culminates in, but is not limited to, a great deal of lack of knowledge about someone who is afflicted with a mental health issue/condition, having the wrong perception, which has been fostered by this lack of knowledge, and where false information has been spread and has grown out of control. Rumors about me were/are abundant, unfortunately.
This misinformation has obviously helped to ruin many lives that I'm sure could have been helped and saved, with proper treatment, but were cut short due to despair, feeling alone in your/their/our battle, helplessness and a life without the perception of any HOPE. A life that feels like it is totally out of control. Unfortunately, while at work as a firefighter, I have had too many experiences and contact with families/friends/and spouses that have found their loved one after they have committed suicide due to a lack of HOPE in their lives, but also because of the many stigmatisms prevalent in todays society due to the lack of knowledge, and fear associated with mental health, and often prevent people who need help to seek out and ask for that help.
The stigma of having a mental health issue is often more than people can deal with, as they perceive that all is lost and there is no HOPE or reason to continue and there is nothing left to live for. Their lives are out of control, and they feel helpless.
This has to change, and this is just one of my objectives and intentions by coming forward publically, sharing my story, talking about my experiences as a 1 in 5 in order to help raise the awareness surrounding this great unknown that we call "mental health". I am very HOPEFUL that we will begin to chip away at the mountain of false information and the many "stigmas" that are associated with mental health, in order to encourage people to ask for help, or families of people who think their loved one needs help.
I really truly believe that this needs to be done, by talking and raising awareness through the "You know who I am" campaign. I'm hoping that by reading this compillation of thoughts/experiences that I have been through, and write about each week, that it will cause you, your families and your friends to learn from my experiences, which will then reassure you that YOU ARE NOT ALONE !!! THERE IS HOPE!!! I HOPE you can/will trust me when I say this to you. Please believe me,, but most importantly, BELIEVE in yourself, because you are worth it, you can overcome and get better, and succeed!! Don't be afraid or ashamed of asking for help. You have to take care of yourself first, ask for help, and you too can get better. There will always be ignorant people who don't understand, or choose not to understand what we are going through, and YES , it will be hard, and it will hurt sometimes, but never ever forget that there is HOPE !!
Thanks, Larry