Mental Illness, Stigma & Being Treated Differently.

It is well known that those with a mental illness, of any kind, will face stigma at some point during their illness (Mental Health Foundation of Australia). People with a mental illness can not only face direct discrimination but also be subject to a myriad of misconceptions and unfair, inaccurate labels.

A person with Schizophrenia is labelled as schizophrenic first, followed by “crazy”, “psycho”, “nuts”. Someone with Bulimia Nervosa is often just called “Bulimic”. Another with Bipolar Disorder can be known as the “manic lady/man”. No one with a mental illness should be known as their illness. They may be unwell, but they are not their illness – they have a personality, likes, dislikes, hobbies, interests, dreams and aspirations.

I’ve spent time in psychiatric wards, in outpatient mental health clinics, respite facilities and step up/step down programs. I’ve met people with a broad range of mental health issues. These people do struggle, but it shouldn’t take away from who they are as a person. I try to find out who people are underneath the labels they’ve been given.

It hurts to think that others may only seem me as someone with a mental illness. The “crazy lady”. I’m not crazy. I was first diagnosed with Depression at age seventeen or eighteen along with Eating Disorder Not Otherwise Specified. During intensive outpatient treatment for the eating disorder I was taught to separate myself from my illness. I was not “Anorexic”. I was Rach. I was, am, so much more than any diagnosis can possibly describe. In recent years I’ve attracted other diagnoses, but I am not those labels, those labels are not me. I am a person. 

I know, even now, that I sometimes am treated differently because of the psychiatric diagnoses I’ve been given. I suppose I’m treated different, regardless of DSM-IV labels, because of behaviours I exhibit.

I’m back at respite this week. The program runs for three nights, all cooking and cleaning is done for you, you have a room to yourself and get to do fun activities in a relaxed, supportive group setting. I love it here, but after the issues I had last time, some changes have been made.

I’ve been given a downstairs room. There are only two downstairs rooms here and they’re usually reserved for clients that, for whatever reason, can’t (or have difficulty) with the stairs. This means that if I become catatonic I’m more likely to be downstairs and paramedics would have a much easier time moving me. Last time I was here the problem they had was with the angle of the stairs – they had to wait for a team from the other side of the city to come with a special stair chair.

There’s also a new rule about scary movies. On Monday nights we’re taken to the video store and can select DVD’s to watch for the week. Last time I was here another client and I selected some horror movies to watch One of them touched on sexual abuse and soon after the movie ended I dissociated. I couldn’t move or talk and was trapped inside my head being assaulted by flashbacks. Now – no scary movies allowed. None at all.

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