The Stigma Of Treatment

All the important people in my life know I struggle with my mental health. That’s old news. I’m not even overly anxious about sharing some of my struggles with the right people at the right time.

On the other hand sharing what treatment I’m receiving for my mental health is so much more anxiety provoking and worrisome.

I’m on three psychotropic drugs, and there’s plenty of judgement and stigma from people about that. I need these medications to function, if anyone has a problem with that, they can get lost.

I’m seeing a therapist weekly. At this point in time the therapist is a psychiatrist. In the past they’ve been psychologists, clinical psychologists, and counsellors. Therapy is a really good way to help me manage my mental health. Again, if people have a problem with that, they can get lost.

Then there’s the inpatient psychiatric admissions. Five in the last two years. Most of them for about three weeks. Not all in times of crisis, but of great stress, and with multiple crappy coping strategies being used.

I’m heading for my seventh admission with the same doctor at the same hospital. I trust my doctor, and I trust the nursing staff. I know the admission will be helpful, they always are, but I’m scared to tell anyone.

I worry so much more about what people might think about me being in a psychiatric hospital, than being on medication, or in therapy.

Is it really that bad that I need to be in hospital?
Yes. Doing the same amount of work in therapy outpatient is impossible. Plus I’m stuck, again. DID chaos, and multiple shit storms brewing beneath the surface. That doesn’t even cover the issues I’ve had with mood (both hypomania and depression in the last month). It is that bad.

Can’t I just get over it? Isn’t therapy enough? Can’t they give you medication?
I’m doing the therapy, and taking the meds. I’m still struggling. As for getting over it? Get lost.

I know hospital is a safe place to crash land. I can be a mess, be emotional, struggle in any kind of way and it’s okay. I don’t have to keep it together. I don’t have to keep smiling. Staff are kind and supportive. I have time and space to unleash the chaos, work through it, and put myself back together again.

I’ve still only told a few people. I’m so fearful of their reaction to, and judgement of inpatient treatment that I stay silent.

I think the stigma associated with psychiatric or psychological treatment can often be so much worse than the stigma associated with a diagnosis.

It’s okay to not be okay, and it’s even more okay to get whatever help you need to be okay again.

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.