Here are some of the myths and misconceptions about mental illness that grind my gears:
1. We aren't allowed to work.
This is simply not true. Many of us are unable to work or unable to work full-time, but many of us can function in "normal" jobs.
2. We're pill junkies.
Addiction is a different story, but those of us who need medicine for our conditions are not addicted to it. We need them just like you need your blood pressure medicine or insulin.
3. It's a character flaw.
Bullshit. It is by far not a flaw. Fighting a mental illness takes personal strength. It is a disease of the brain that we can't help having.
4. People with mental illnesses will never recover fully.
For some people, that is true. However, most of us can recover to some degree or another and function.
5. We are attention-seeking.
No. Just...no. If I could take this away I would. I don't want to have this, but I make the best of a bad situation and use my position to spread awareness and combat stigma.
Stay strong, my friends!
There is a new hashtag on Twitter that I really want to talk about, #WhatMentalIllnessFeelsLike.
Right now, it feels like fatigue and aching legs. It can also feel like being misunderstood. It can feel like wearing a weighted vest. It can feel like forgetting things you need to remember. It can feel like a new kind of pain you've never had before.
Here are some tweets from the tag:
I was diagnosed with schizoaffective disorder in 2014. Before my first episode, I had never had any mental health treatment of any kind. Experiencing a psychotic episode and receiving a diagnosis of a lifelong chronic illness is scary. Some people make the experience even worse by perpetuating the stigma associated with mental health conditions.
Some People Don't Realize They Are Perpetuating The Stigma
Some mean people still think that mental illness is a character flaw or a result of bad parenting. Some people even go so far as to say they don't "believe" in taking medicine for a mental illness. You never hear people saying that about other chronic diseases.
Many people say bad comments about it, but they often don't realize they are doing it. I've done it myself. I used to use terms like "crazy" or "nuts." Many people may use mental health terms as adjectives because they haven't been taught not to. "She is so bipolar." "I'm so depressed today."
I've even gotten stigmatizing comments from family members. They obviously didn't mean it, but the remarks still hurt. I was talking to a relative about my medicine not working, and she actually said, "You need to change your attitude."
When I start crying, I have been told by my parents to "lighten up." Many people just don't understand what depression is like. They hear the term depression and think it just means that we get a little sad sometimes.
Accepting A Diagnosis
When your doctor tells you what your diagnosis is, you may be shocked. You may be angry. Accepting a diagnosis can take some time. It may make you feel bad about yourself.
These stigmatizing comments people make don't help. Many people don't get treatment because they are in denial about it. They think that it can't happen to them.
Fighting a mental illness can erode at your self esteem. Many people think that these diseases are something bad. Having these symptoms and not being able to control it can make you feel like a failure. Many people think that taking medicine for a mental illness makes them a failure or a weak person.
No matter what anyone tells you, recovering from a mental illness takes strength. Accepting your diagnosis and getting help makes you stronger than you think. Many people have a hard time admitting that they have a problem.
Always remember you are never alone. It may take some hard work, but once you have the right medicine combination it can improve your quality of life. Many people with mental illnesses can recover and live like anyone else.
I have schizoaffective disorder and anxiety. Schizoaffective disorder is a mix of psychotic symptoms and a bipolar mood symptoms. The psychotic symptoms for me usually just consist of paranoia. I had hallucinations one time, but I haven't since my first psychotic episode.
Stuck In A Work Cubicle With Paranoia And Anxiety
We all have either worked in or heard about "cube farms." These are large office rooms that are populated by cubicles. You are squished in close with many of your coworkers. There's no privacy, and you hear everything. When you are anxious about starting or new job (or just anxious in general), these environments can breed anxiety and paranoia.
The last time I tried to work in one of these environments, I kept thinking that everyone was talking about me. I was already nervous about starting a new job, and that wasn't helping. The paranoia says, "They are talking about me. They must not like me." The anxiety says, "You're going to get fired. You're going to get in trouble."
These feelings can be paralyzing and horrible. This is one of the many possible reasons that many of us who suffer from mental illnesses can't work or have a hard time keeping jobs. In the two-and-a-half years that I have been diagnosed, I've been through four jobs that didn't work out. One of them just lost my funding and laid me off; that one didn't have anything to do with my disease.
Stupid Comments People Say About It
Many people mean well when they offer advice, but some of the comments can be very unhelpful. One time when I was crying, I was told to "lighten up." My response: "Do you think I haven't f***ing thought of that?!" Yelling did help stop my crying, so maybe it did help.
Working At Home
In my case, working at home is the perfect solution. I still get anxious, but being at home is much less stressful. It can take some getting used to if you work this way. You have to be able to concentrate, prioritize your tasks, and get your work done. You can do it, though!
My symptoms have been greatly alleviated since I started working at home as a writer. Many people are too sick to do that, but those of us that are a little more stable could benefit from working at home. I have even been able to cut back on some of my medicines.
If you are facing a diagnosis of mental illness, always remember that you can do this. Many of us can have at least some recovery. We fight these symptoms every day. Always remember that you are never alone.
One in five people deal with mental health issues. It can effect anyone, so here are some quotes about mental illness and mental health issues in general.
1. The Silver Linings Playbook by Matthew Quick
“If clouds are blocking the sun, there will always be a silver lining that reminds me to keep on trying."
2. The Bell Jar by Sylvia Plath
“I took a deep breath and listened to the old bray of my heart. I am, I am, I am.”
3. I Shall Wear Midnight by Terry Pratchett
“There have been times, lately, when I dearly wished that I could change the past. Well, I can’t, but I can change the present, so that when it becomes the past it will turn out to be a past worth having.”
4. Looking For Alaska by John Green
“We need never be hopeless, because we can never be irreparably broken.”
5. Mockingjay by Suzanne Collins
“It takes ten times as long to put yourself back together as it does to fall apart.”
6. Anthony and Cleopatra by William Shakespeare
“Make not your thoughts your prisons.”
7. Hopeless by Colleen Hoover
“I want you to remember who you are, despite the bad things that are happening to you. Because those bad things aren’t you. They are just things that happen to you. You need to accept that who you are and the things that happen you, are not one and the same.”
8. Lyrics from David Bowie
:"Cause I’d rather stay here
With all the madmen
Than perish with the sadmen roaming free
And I’d rather play here
With all the madmen
For I’m quite content they’re all as sane
9. Quote by Andy Behrman
"The guilt I felt for having a mental illness was horrible. I prayed for a broken bone that would heal in six weeks. But that never happened. I was cursed with an illness that nobody could see and nobody knew much about."
10. Quote by Alyssa Reyans
"Bipolar robs you of that which is you. It can take from you the very core of your being and replace it with something that is completely opposite of who and what you truly are. Because my bipolar went untreated for so long, I spent many years looking in the mirror and seeing a person I did not recognize or understand. Not only did bipolar rob me of my sanity, but it robbed me of my ability to see beyond the space it dictated me to look. I no longer could tell reality from fantasy, and I walked in a world no longer my own."
I love to see celebrities using their fame for good things. These stars have spoken out about dealing with depression.
1. Kristen Bell
I love this woman. She was amazing in the classic show, Veronica Mars. She played a high school student who moonlights as a budding detective with an awesome dose of sarcasm. She spoke out about taking medicine for depression and anxiety.
2. Angelina Jolie
Yes, the beautiful actress struggled with depression. She suffered a bad depressive state after her mother died, so she jumped at the chance to do the action-thriller "Wanted." She said:
"My mother had just passed away, and I wanted to do something physical to get it out of my head for a while,"
3. Catherine Zeta-Jones
Technically, she was diagnosed with Bipolar Disorder Type II, but she particularly struggles with the depressive side of the disease. She said:
"I'm lucky ... but that's not to say I don't get down on myself ... I don't just bring myself down, I bring everyone around me down. It's like a dark cloud, 'Uh-oh, here we go,' and I have to snap out of it."
4. Abraham Lincoln
The amazing former president struggled with bouts of depression in his life. He suffered from stress and feelings of inadequacy during his life.
About 1 in 5 Americans suffers from some kind of mental health issues in a given year. Not all of these people have a chronic mental illness, but many of them do.
I am one of these people. I have a chronic serious mental illness. It is called schizoaffective disorder. It is a mix of schizophrenic symptoms and bipolar/mood disorder symptoms. Even when stabilized, it can still take its toll. It is very hard to gain and keep stability, but I fight every day to keep stable. Here are some more things you may not know about this disease and about mental illness in general:
1. It is not the same as schizophrenia.
While it is similar to schizophrenia, it is recognized as a separate illness. This occurs because the patient has enough symptoms of both illnesses to warrant a separate diagnosis. There is a major overlap with symptoms in schizoaffective disorder. Some symptoms include depression, mania, paranoia, hallucinations, memory loss, and concentration problems. Both are still serious illnesses that need treatment. Recovery and treatment are more important than putting labels on the condition.
2. It's rare.
About one in 200 people will develop schizoaffective disorder at some point in their lives. Schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia are the most common serious mental illnesses in hospitals. We do end up in the hospital more than people with other psychiatric illness. Many people can find recovery with medicine and therapy, though. Many people with serious psychiatric illnesses can lead fairly normal lives. It's a chronic illness that needs to be managed. Following a strong treatment regimen can help cut down on the amount of hospital stays. Never stop a medicine without your doctor's approval. Listen to your therapist and doctor. Try the things that they suggest even if you don't like them all.
3. It's NOT caused by a weak character or bad parenting.
This is just wrong. This is a major stigma among people with mental illnesses. People think that it's something you can just snap out of. New research is showing that the disease has a genetic component. It, along with other mental illnesses, can run in families. It can be hard to find out if your ancestors had it, though. We have more technology and knowledge to aid in diagnosis. Also, the Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Illness (DSM) has changed over the years. Current theories show that it is also caused by an imbalance in brain chemicals. So, this is a lot more complicated than just "lightening up" or "snapping out of it."
4. Psychosis is not just hallucinations.
This can apply to many mental illnesses. When you mention schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia, people think of someone having hallucinations. Psychosis is a lot more than that, and people with other mental illnesses can experience psychosis as well. Some other symptoms include bizarre thinking, difficulty with controlling emotions, disorganized speech, and general odd behavior. It can be very scary for the person experiencing it. Don't dismiss their concerns if your loved one is having an episode. Comfort them. Remind them that it's not real.
5. Depression is not just sadness.
Again, this could apply to other illnesses, but schizoaffective people can experience depression. Depression is a lot more than just being sad. It can cause irritability. The person loses interest in everyday activities. It can also cause cognitive problems such as poor memory and concentration. It can cause appetite changes and sleep changes. People eat too much or too little. People sleep too much or don't sleep at all. They may experience some suicidal thoughts.
6. It is NOT multiple personality disorder.
People believe that schizophrenia and/or schizoaffective disorder involves multiple personality disorder. Dissociative identity disorder (DID) is the condition that involves multiple personalities. They are different mental illnesses. People with schizoaffective disorder and schizophrenia can sometimes hear voices, but that is different. That is a foreign voice in your thoughts. Multiple personalities involves people acting like a completely different person. They also have delusions or paranoia.
7. People with these disorders are smart.
Some people will equate mental illnesses with cognitive disabilities. Many of us do have problems with memory, concentration, and learning. However, that doesn't mean we are not smart. Many of us can still manage to get degrees and get good jobs. It may be more difficult, but we can live a normal life as well. Some people link psychosis with increased creativity.
8. Medicine is just a part of the recovery process.
Medicines are an important tool in treating mental illnesses. However, medicine doesn't fix everything. Attending talk therapy can really help people cope with this illness. Occupational therapy can help in finding and keeping a job. Also, eating right and exercising can help you feel better. Schizoaffective disorder can be treated with combinations of anti-psychotics, mood stabilizers, and/or anti-depressants. It may take a while, but finding the right combination can make a huge difference in someone's quality of life.
9. There are different types of schizoaffective disorder.
Schizoaffective disorder can be broken down into multiple types. It depends on what type(s) of mood symptoms you have. If you are primarily a depressive and schizoaffective, then you might have the depressive type. There is also a manic type. Mania is a period in a mood disorder where the person experiences symptoms such as high energy, racing thoughts, risky behavior, and more. There is a manic (or bipolar) type of schizoaffective disorder. There is also a mixed type. You may have this type if you experience both types of mood symptoms at one point.
10. Drinking alcohol causes major problems.
Unfortunately, people with mental illnesses are also susceptible to addiction/substance abuse problems. Drinking alcohol can make the medicine not work properly. It also makes you feel the effects of the alcohol more than other people. It may make you feel good for a little while, but it isn't good to take it in the long run. Illegal drugs can also cause problems. Many people who suffer from this, or any, mental illnesses are more likely to have other disorders.
Schizoaffective disorder is a bit different from schizophrenia. They have similar symptoms, but people with schizoaffective disorders have a bit more of a mood disorder component to their illness. Here are a few famous people who live with this disorder:
1. John Nash
You may recognize the name from the movie made about the man, A Beautiful Mind. He was a brilliant mathematician, but he also suffered with schizoaffective disorder.
2. Brian Wilson
Yes, the famous member of the band, The Beach Boys, lives with schizoaffective disorder. He still continued recording and performing with it.
3. Syd Barrett
The Pink Floyd singer continued to perform amazing music while living with this disease. His song, "Wish You Were Here," is supposedly about his struggle with psychosis.
4. Florence Nightingale
The famous British nurse also lived with this illness. She suffered from hallucinations while working in the hospital.
When you deal with a mental health condition, we face stigma and judgement. Often, there is even judgement surrounding getting treatment. Many people already have a hard time seeking help because of the stigma. Getting help should not bring on more judgement.
However, many people judge you if you take medicine for your illness. A study showed that people refuse treatment more often when they are offered the option of taking medicine alone versus therapy alone or a combination of the two.
Lead researcher, Dr Joshua Swift, said this about it:
“We found that rates of treatment refusal were about two times greater for pharmacotherapy alone compared with psychotherapy alone, particularly for the treatment of social anxiety disorder, depressive disorders, and panic disorder.”
Co-author Roger Greenberg, Ph.D., SUNY Upstate Medical University, said:
“Our findings support that argument, showing that clients are more likely to be willing to start and continue psychotherapy than pharmacotherapy.”
Show your passion to end the stigma on social media with the hashtag, #MedicatedAndMighty. Here are some of my favorite tweets from it:
For those of you who have Netflix, they added a new comedy special by Neal Brennan called "3 Mics." It is very good for a laugh, but also, one line he said really resonated with me. He talked about dealing with depression and trying different treatments. He said that having depression feels like you are wearing a weighted vest.
That line really resonated with me. I could almost picture the vest and what my weights would be made of: self doubt, sadness, hopelessness. Depression is so much more than feeling sad. It can come in many forms.
Brennan went on to talk about how he tried many different types of treatment for his depression.
I applaud Brennan for speaking out about his struggles. Talking about the struggle spreads awareness and fights the stigma. Any celebrity using their platform for good is a great thing. If you have Netflix, check out the whole special because it's hilarious.