Kathryn Spencer PSY 353-1 November 30
November 30, 2018
Mental Health Stigma
My family has a history of mental health problems. I have been diagnosed with a mood disorder. There has not been any other specification as to what kind of mood disorder. The possibility of me having borderline personality disorder is noted in my counseling notes. I asked to not put that in my chart because I have a problem with being labeled as having a personality disorder. While borderline did not make it into my chart as a diagnosis, one of my counselors let it slip that it was in my counseling notes from a previous counselor. The idea of having a personality disorder bothers me because personality disorders are often perceived as being unfixable and completely the person’s fault, whereas other mental health disorders, like depression, are a little more accepted by society as a disorder and not necessarily a problem with the person’s character.
My mother reacted very negatively when I told her I was getting professional mental health help because of social stigma. She was immediately upset because she thought my counselor was going to blame her for all my problems. Growing up, my mother had a lot of mood swings and was very passive aggressive. Throughout my entire childhood, my mother taught me that medicine prescribed for mental health purposes does not work and I needed to learn to regulate my emotions naturally. In high school, I finally convinced her to schedule an intake appointment for me at a local counseling center. She later decided to cancel without asking me first and told me repetitively that once “they” label me as “crazy,” I cannot go back. I will forever be labeled as “crazy.”
I grew up in a small town located in Northeast Ohio. There are not many options for mental health services nearby. My brother, David, has type II bipolar and ADHD. His symptoms are so intense, he made our local high school’s psychology teacher believe ADHD was a real disorder. The teacher did not believe ADHD was real until he met and worked with my brother. The school ended up sending David to the psychology teacher instead of the principal when he was acting up because the principal was unable to be understanding about my brother’s disorders.
My mother took David in for treatment at the closest counseling center, which was in the town next to ours. My family had health insurance at the time, but it would not cover any of my brother’s medications. The counseling center was very understanding though and gave my mother a month’s worth of my brother’s prescriptions through the free trials they had available. Because of this, his treatment options were very limited. If he had more options, his life would have probably turned out much better than it has so far.
I have been talking with my mother a lot more about mental illness to try to make her feel more comfortable about talking about the subject. I use many of the random facts I learn from my classes throughout the semester to talk to her. For example, I told my mother about when we discussed how telling a child how they are feeling so they can start to recognize their own emotions. My mother is raising my brother’s daughter. She is 6 years old and experiences mood swings. I think those mood swings can be lessened if she were to tell her what the emotions she is feeling are called. When my mother got custody of my niece at 2 years old, she did not know how to talk yet and was not even babbling. It was like she was mute. She needed a lot of speech therapy. I am sure explaining to her what the emotions she is experiencing are called would be very useful for her.
Mental health stigma and treatment barriers are even worse for minorities. When people of color do have access to treatment, their problems often dismissed or overlooked. Jeanne Li wrote about her experience as a patient in the psych ward. She describes the difference she observed of the treatment of people of color compared to the treatment of white and light skinned patients and the difference in the treatment of women verses men. She also discloses her own experiences involving sexual harassment and rape attempts. The treatment center she describes seems to only add to the trauma and problems of the patients with darker skin tones, especially the women. I think research should be done on the treatment barriers of women of color when they receive mental health services, not just their access to treatment. Spreading awareness of this issue should also be a priority. Jeanne Li has recently been dubbed “the meme queen of Cleveland” by the Cleveland Scene for her efforts to bring attention to issues people do not like talking about through her social media posts (Colangelo, 2017). This is an example of why it may be beneficial to take the discussion of this topic to social media. Her memes she made due to boredom have raised awareness so much a newspaper wrote an article about her, promoting even more awareness.
Ahmedani’s article, Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession discusses 9 dimensions of stigma: peril, aesthetics, origin, controllability, pity, concealability, course, stability, and disruptiveness. Peril refers to the fear of “crazy people” and aesthetics refers to the association between mental illness and the discomfort created by socially awkward/socially frowned upon behaviors. When my mother would not take me to get any mental health treatment out of fear I was going to be labeled crazy she was trying to prevent me from feeling any backlash from the parallel dimension of stigma. Related to aesthetics, concealability refers to society’s increased avoidance of a person with more a mental illness that manifests more visible symptoms than other mental illnesses. The avoidance of David by the principal of our school is an example of this because my brother had many anger outbursts where he punched walls and lockers and had an extremely difficult time calming down. Disruptiveness can be described as the extent to which someone’s mental illness negatively affects them in interpersonal relationships and within their community. David has experienced a lot disruptiveness caused by his mental illnesses. Our local high school pressed charges against David for throwing a desk at a teacher. When he finished serving his jail time for the offence, the high school would not let him attend school there anymore. He had to finish his high school degree online.
Origin is about where the mental illness stems from. Since mental illness has some genetic causes, people are often afraid of how the diagnosis and treatment of one family member affects their community’s view of them. Controllability refers to beliefs, like my mother’s, that you must learn to deal with your emotional problems yourself and if you do not improve, you are not trying hard enough. Origin likely also played a role in my mother’s fear that I would be labeled as “crazy.” We lived in a very small town where news seems to travel fast. Pity explains why people view depression with less stigma than personality disorders. Personality disorders are best treated with counseling, making it seem like the thing preventing someone with a personality disorder from getting better is themselves. Course and stability look at how likely it is for an individual with a disabling mental illness too get better from treatments they are receiving.
Experiences like the ones Jeanne Li had with her in-patient treatment may play a role in why Ahmedani’s research about mental health stigma found that stigma is the biggest barrier to treatment engagement. Perhaps research should be done on whether stigma towards mental health affects treatment engagement differently among different racial groups. If that research is done, it can then be used to raise awareness. In order to increase awareness, an easy to read summary of the article could be shared via social media. The only way to reduce stigma is to talk about the subject and make it less taboo.
Ahmedani, Brian K., (2011). Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession. Journal of social work values and ethics, 8(2), 41-416.
Colangelo, B. (2018, November 27). Meet the Meme Queen Behind the Cleveland Takedowns All Your Friends Shared on Facebook This Weekend. Retrieved from https://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2018/08/13/meet-the-meme-queen-behind-the-cleveland-takedowns-all-your-friends-shared-on-facebook-this-weekend Colangelo, B. (2018, November 27). Meet the Meme Queen Behind the Cleveland Takedowns All Your Friends Shared on Facebook This Weekend. Retrieved from https://www.clevescene.com/scene-and-heard/archives/2018/08/13/meet-the-meme-queen-behind-the-cleveland-takedowns-all-your-friends-shared-on-facebook-this-weekend
Li, J. (2017). Race and Gender in the Psych Ward. Retrieved from https://www.argotmagazine.com/first-person-and-perspectives/race-gender-mental-health-psych-ward