Some of us are lucky enough to have really supportive loved ones and, sometimes, a friend or family member might come to our doctors’ appointments. If this is the case for you, consider yourself lucky because it can be very helpful. I’m not suggesting that you drag someone to your psychiatrist’s appointment by his or her hair or that you invite people with whom you are not comfortable, but if a friend or family member coming to a doctor’s appointment is an option for you, I say, take it.
This weeks is mental health week in Canada – not mental illness week. According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, “We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health. Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. It’s a state of well-being.”
This is true. We all do have mental health. And mental health is important. But what we need in society is mental illness week not mental health week.
Yesterday, I was fortunate enough to give a presentation on mental illness to a group of ninth-graders through the Bipolar Babe project. I spoke about stigma and my personal story of mental illness. I told them all about my bipolar disorder, my diagnosis, treatments, treatment failures, vagus nerve stimulator, electroconvulsive therapy and more. And at the end of the presentation, the kids had a chance to fill out feedback forms, and one of the words they used surprised me – inspirational.
I get a lot of feedback on my writing. I like feedback. Some of it’s positive, some of it’s negative, but it’s always interesting to know what other people are thinking of my writing.
But one of the types of comments that drives me absolutely nuts goes like this, “I lived with a bipolar person for 20 years and I don’t understand why people with bipolar are so angry,” or they’re “so violent,” or “so manipulative,” or “cheaters,” or whatever.
Here’s what drives me crazy about it – living with someone with bipolar disorder does not make you an expert on people with bipolar disorder; it makes you an expert in one person. Not all of us.
There is a bone of contention in the mental health world. Well, OK, there are many, but one of them is the terms “mental illness” and “mental health.” It seems more politically correct these days to say “mental health” vs. “mental illness.”
For example, people have mental health conferences, not mental illness conferences. There are mental health policies, not mental illness policies. And so on. I guess it’s the glass half-full theory. Mental health is more positive than mental illness (and don’t get me started about the term “behavioural health”).
But there is a problem with this whole rosy-colored view. It completely ostracises and further stigmatizes people with a mental illness.
One of the frustrating things about having a mental illness is how often people say (or intimate) that the mental illness is your fault. Oh sure, they might not come right out and say, “You’re to blame for your bipolar,” (although some people do) but they might just say:
- You wouldn’t be bipolar if you didn’t take all those meds
- Your diet [eating wheat, dairy, etc.] is causing your mental illness
- You wouldn’t be depressed if you exercised more
- Your mental illness is “all in your head”
- Your bipolar is made up by your psychiatrist
- Mental illness is your punishment for not being Christian (or not being faithful enough)
And so on and so forth pretty much until my head is about to explode.
But here’s a newsflash – mental illness isn’t your fault. My bipolar isn’t my fault. No illness is the sufferer’s fault and I’m tired of having to defend myself to others just because my illness is “mental.”
Sometimes writing for a living drives me bonkers. Basically, I have to be brilliant on-command. And seriously. That’s hard.
You. Write. Be brilliant. Now!
It’s a lot of work for me. My brilliance gets tired and bogged down in the bits of my job I don’t like doing.
However, then I’m reminded there are many wonderful things about my job. Specifically, I get to learn new things, every day, all the time. While others work at real jobs I spend all day looking up facts and studies and learning things I didn’t know when I woke up.
I love that stuff.
3 Things I’ve Learned About Mental Health
So, I’m creating a weekly feature by sincerely flattering Jane Friedman and stealing her idea. (Jane writes Three Happy Things about writing once a week. Go check her out.) I’m not sure they will be three happy things, exactly, but I will be sharing three new things about mental health I’ve learned each week.
This will give me a chance to share smaller details that don’t make it into a full blog post, pimp the resources I like and otherwise share my knowledge.
On board? Great!
Three New Things About Mental Health
Not surprisingly, I’m inundated with information about mental illness/psychiatry/psychology. I’m constantly researching, reading articles, checking sources and other such things. I come across things I like and things I don’t.
- What I don’t like – the British Psychological Society’s comments on the revisions proposed for the fifth version of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-V). The British Psychological Society appears to be a non-profit group dedicated to psychology/psychologists. Which is fine. I’m a fan of psychology/psychologists. But their remarks on the DSM-V revision sound like propaganda nonsense. Not only can they not get through a paragraph without cutting-and-pasting, they seem to have only one thing to say – we don’t like the idea of diagnosing mental illness; oh, and we’re better than you.
- What I do like – a Psychiatric Times article: The FDA Advisory Panel on the Reclassification of ECT Devices. I wrote about this issue for Breaking Bipolar to put it into smaller, more easily-digested chunks. (Why There Isn’t More Modern Data on ECT and Should the FDA Consider ECT Devices Less Dangerous.) But read the original article. It’s good and shines a light on yet another ECT issue that get’s people’s knickers all twisted.
- What I think is interesting – a journal article on methods of schizophrenia treatment. This article is interesting because it outlines non-North American treatment options as well as standard antipsychotic/medication options. The article’s goal is to define schizophrenia recovery and use evidenced-based methods to determine the best path to schizophrenia recovery. Do yourself a favor and educate yourself about schizophrenia.
I do admit, those may not be easy reading, but they are worthwhile reading (or skimming, anyway).
I’ll see you next week when will I learn more and try to do better.
PS: If anyone has any direct knowledge of the British Psychological Society I’d love to hear it. They seem quite legitimate but I have to question the motives of such an odd report.