Dealing with mental illness - and misperceptions of it
This is one of a series of stories the Post is publishing in recognition of Mental Illness Awareness Week. Because of the stigma some people attach to mental illness. the writer is not identified.
I have probably had a lifetime of depression, probably genetic. Later in my life, two manic episodes surfaced. After struggling with a severe physical illness for five years, the first manic episode hit, after a general practitioner put me on the highest dosage of an anti-depressant. I had taken anti-depressants for several years in moderate doses and they seemed to help. This time I had a severe reaction to the anti-depressant and ended up in the hospital. It was very scary. When something happens to one's brain, that person loses much control over other areas in his life. It is a very scary place to be. At the same time, a person can become exhilarated due to the mania, and getting that person to calm down and go for treatment is probably not going to be successful. The brain is out of control.
Here's how this has affected me, even now, years later: I am doing better with a good psychiatrist and proper medications. I have been able to cut back on the medication, but I always think, "What if?" It could happen again, and I live with the possibility. As least I know the symptoms and the possible triggers. Also I know that the medication can be increased if need be.
One of the biggest difficulties with mental illness is the way a person perceives himself and feels towards himself. Also, the way society treats a person with a mental disorder is very sad. Just as each person without a mental disorder is unique, so is a person with a mental disorder. Society can be cruel in its treatment of a person with a mental disorder. A person with a mental disorder has to navigate the stigma that comes from friends, family, employers, co-workers and the community.
It's almost as if certain people, knowing your diagnosis, expect you to "lose it." It's difficult to be yourself and express emotions. If you express anger, it's because of your "illness." If you do not feel a certain way, it's because of your "illness." Some people will try to make you a scapegoat, blaming you for everything that has and does go wrong.
Mental illness is difficult to live with, not only because of the actual symptoms of mental illness, but most of all the misunderstanding that people have towards it. This is unfair to the person with mental illness.
The solution is to become educated about mental illness. Many of us have either experienced mental illness or we know of someone - friend,family member or co-worker - who has been afflicted by it at some point in their lives. Perhaps we know someone who has been incarcerated. A large percentage of the prison population has mental illness.
With an increasingly stressful world, we see the effects of it daily in our world, in our country and in our own communities and homes.
Let's become informed, educated citizens, not willing to cast blame but willing to understand. A good place to support and get support is with NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness). There are support groups and education groups. There are also programs sponsored by NAMI, such as FAMILY 2 FAMILY for family members and caregivers, and PEER 2 PEER, a 10-week workshop for people with a diagnosable mental illness which can range from anxiety/depression and panic disorder to mental illnesses such as bipolar disorder, PTSD and schizophrenia.