Thanks Andrew, for writing this piece about the stigma of mental health issues. My late wife, Melanie, who lost her battle with bipolar disorder was greatly affected by the stigma; and I believe that she is one of the folks you cite in your article that fatally delayed treatment because she didn’t want “people to know”.
Below is an excerpt of the eulogy that I read at her funeral service in which I ask my friends and family to help us all to fight the stigma, and the way we view these diseases of the brain. I hope it will help some folks to view this issue differently, and to really think through how we communicate about those, and with those, who fight these diseases daily:
“…I want you to focus on 3 words, “is”… “has”…and “why”.
Melanie wasn’t bipolar.
Melanie had a disease of the brain that was called “Bipolar Disorder”–and I assured her of that over and over. No one wants to be defined by a disease, and especially not someone as proud as my Melly. When people have cancer, they aren’t cancer, they have cancer. I don’t understand why mental illness defines someone with the word “is”. Its a disease of the brain, and although it usually doesn’t ravage the body like so many of the other horrible diseases, it does ravage the brain, and makes people do things that are unimaginable to those of us with normal functioning brains.
I believe that these mental diseases are just like all others: some are curable, some or controllable and some are terminal. I firmly believe that Melanie had a terminal case of this horrible disease that she fought so valiantly through. She took her meds, she went to therapy, she fought it, but at the end of the day, she succumbed to the terminal disease, just as someone who HAD terminal cancer.
So let’s work on inserting the “has”, and removing the “is”, and I believe the stigma associated with mental diseases will slowly begin to fade….”
I hope this will help folks to really think through their words and actions.
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