The Stigma of "Disorder": Wisdom from Therese Borchard
Therese Borchard, author of the hit blog Beyond Blue, recently wrote her newest book, Beyond Blue: Surviving Depression & Anxiety and Making the Most of Bad Genes. In this book she gives a sobering and humorous account of her struggles through depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder and all the other trials and tribulations that follow suit. One key point that caught my eye in her book was her experience around the stigma around mental illness.
In a personal communication I had with her, she wrote:
This is ultimately why I wrote the book ... to educate people in hopes that we can eliminate some of the stigma. When I was getting ready to send out copies, I made a list of the people who would really "get it" and appreciate the book. I wasn't going to give a copy to the family members and friends who I thought would shake their head and say something under their breath about victim me being caught up in my wounds. But Eric said to me, "It's easier to give this to the folks who will agree with you. If you are serious about this mission of educating people about mental illness, I suggest you give it to those who might be confused or ticked off." So I did. And I received some cold, apathetic responses. I expected that. But a neighbor approached me in tears and said she better understood a family member, and a good friend of mine called me up in tears. "I know I must have been one of those people who said hurtful things to you, and I am so sorry," she said. "I just really had no idea what you were dealing with until I read this."
One of the most hurtful statements was when a friend asked me, "Do you WANT to get better?" which suggests that getting better is only a matter of willing ourselves to get better, and that if I stayed suicidal for two years it was because I wasn't trying hard enough. I think, if someone says something like that to me again, I might say, "Does a person with cancer or diabetes want to get better? Would you fault a person because their chemo wasn't as effective as it should be? Mood disorders are organic illnesses, too, that can't always be managed with will power and discipline." Another confusing statement is that antidepressants and other medicine merely suppress your emotions. I have done a fair amount of research on that, so to that person, I would say, "If you are taking too much of a drug or are on the wrong one, maybe, but my experience is that they have allowed me to feel more deeply."
I touched on this topic in earlier blog posts such as ADHD - Breaking the Cycle of Shame and Bipolar Disorder: What's in a Label?. If you or someone you know has suffered with depression, anxiety, bipolar, ADHD, etc... what kind of stigma have you encountered? How has it affected you and what has helped?
As always, please share your thoughts, stories, and questions below. Your interactions here provide a living wisdom that we can all benefit from.