The following is an extract from an interview with Kelly Shelley, who lives with and fights stigma against anxiety and bipolar disorder:
“Stigma means being judged for having a mental health condition. For me it’s most been self-stigma, not wanting to, or allowing myself to, get help due to fear of being judged, i.e. seen as weak or dangerous.
The most common mental health stigmas I have come across are judgement regarding the usage of psychotropic medications and worries that “crazy” people are inherently dangerous, not intelligent or just plain not trying hard enough.
The medication one grinds my gears because I know what I’m like both on and off meds… and I know I’m a lot more stable and pleasant to be around on the right medication.
The ‘not trying hard enough’ thing gets me too. If I could work, pray, think, or exercise my way out of this I would have a long time ago. Having chronic, lifelong, potentially fatal, mental health problems is not my idea of a good time.
Over my lifetime I’m looking at probably more med changes (especially as I change hormonally, going into menopause) and the possibility of further psychiatric hospitalizations. And while we have a great hospital here, I’d prefer not to have hospital bills and I miss my animals when I’m well enough… sometimes it’s just the money thing.
One thing my therapist has done to combat my feelings of shame surrounding mental illness is constantly remind me that this isn’t something I caused or that I’m doing, it’s an illness in the way that diabetes is an illness. I wouldn’t feel ashamed for that.
In order to normalise mental health, we should make sure people know that mental health problems are like any other illness. Talk about them like they are. I don’t hide that I have anxiety and bipolar, I don’t make a big deal of it.
I’ll see my friends’ eyes go wide when I mention why I was in the hospital sometimes. I’ve spent some time educating my friends and family and also co-workers and manager about bipolar and anxiety, and my experiences.”
Read more of Kelly’s interview: (coming soon)
What is your experience of mental health stigma?