During the eight years I taught NAMI’s Family to Family course, the session that most powerfully impacted participants was the one near the program’s end where they got to meet a person who relies on mental health services.
They’d look around the room expectantly and I’d announce: “I know you’re expecting a special guest tonight, someone who lives with mental illness as your relatives do.” I’d pause a few beats, then say: “Hi. My name is Carlene and I live with bipolar disorder.”
Eyes would widen. Jaws would drop. Sometimes I could hear a sharp intake of breath. No one expected their teacher to have a diagnosis. No one imagined that an ordinary-shaped life could also include bipolar disorder.
A few years back, I interviewed for a 20-hour job at a mental health nonprofit. The part-time, benefit-free position offered a paycheck comparable to what a hospital in the same city paid its part-time switchboard operators, but since everyone seemed to consider me overqualified to run a switchboard, I kept applying for positions in line with my experience.
I made it to the second interview and found the team quite concerned about whether I would be able to consistently represent their views about mental health at all times, in all places. Even though I was being considered for a part-time role outside the community where I lived.
This wasn’t the first time that an organization expected my paycheck to buy round-the-clock commitment. I started my career in news media at a time when they were expected to be politically “impartial” and so prohibited staff from any public engagement in causes. I later worked for a large civil engineering company that was often the presenting consultant at local meetings. I therefore could only participate as a citizen in public hearings when I agreed with the view the firm propounded.
In the case of the engineering firm, the paycheck was big enough to buy almost anything. In the case of the news operation, the honor of the profession (at that time) allowed me to walk proud even under constraints on my citizenship.
But the idea that I should never express a view about mental illness different from that of my part-time employer in exchange for less than $15,000 a year — I found that staggering. I didn’t think it would be a problem to present their program to potential funders, but it would definitely be a problem to limit myself to their perspectives during the remaining 7,696 hours per year.
Don’t take this as a statement about you. It’s just something I’m noticing about me. What sometimes looks like “ADHD” might just be me choosing to do what I enjoy more right now instead of what’s really important. That makes it self-indulgence, not a mental health disorder.
“Must Do!” … but will I prioritize them?
Today, my “To Do” list had only 3 “Must Do!” items on it. It’s 1:30 p.m., which means I’m more than 6 hours into the day. And only 1 of those 3 “Must Do!” items is complete.
Top “priorities” — my “shiny squirrels”
What I’ve prioritized instead of my “Must Do!” list are the various “shiny squirrels” I’ve chased so far today. Continue reading →
People often avoid seeking treatment for mental health conditions because they fear repercussions should their conditions become known. You can call those repercussions “stigma,” as most do, or “discrimination,” as I prefer — either way, people who need help avoid it because they are afraid of losing things important to them.
Who is Most Afraid of Mental Health Discrimination?
The April 30 issue of Hope and Harmony Headlines from bp.com reported that Psychological Medicine published a review of 144 studies on mental health “stigma” (discrimination) in January 2015. The review found five specific people groups most likely to avoid treatment for fear of disclosure: Continue reading →