Stigma of Mental Illness
Table of Contents
Long before recovery, rehabs, and relocating to California, I suffered from crippling depression. I used to ask myself constantly, “Can a person go to rehab for depression?” As a child, sometimes getting out of bed seemed impossible. I remember summers spent indoor, watching as the rest of the world seemed to be in a frenzy; jumping from excitement to excitement while I stayed in bed until well after noon. The patterns of this would carry into my adult life, making tasks like work or school seem just as unlikely as going outside as a kid.
Eventually, through enough trial and error with drugs, alcohol, and failed attempts at getting a grip on my own mental health, I found a doctor whom I trusted and in turn listened to. I was prescribed a few different medications for depression before one finally helped. It was a slow process, but eventually I noticed a difference in my mood and my quality of life. I was skeptical of medication, and I was skeptical that there could be any underlying issues other than drug and alcohol abuse. For many alcoholics and addicts, there’s usually what is referred to as a co-occurring disorder, or a separate issue that may add to the symptoms of another disorder or disease. Quite often, Alcoholics and drug addicts self medicate with drugs or alcohol as a way to treat the symptoms of a different disorder; like anxiety or depression.
The stigma of mental illness is still alive and well today. Unfortunately, most addicts and alcoholics suffer from some form of mental illness. Whether it’s bipolar disorder, borderline personality disorder, anxiety, or depression, mental illness is an underlying issue for most addicts and alcoholics.
What is Mental Illness?
Much like a physical illness, a mental illness can develop as either hereditary or from environmental factors like abuse or neglect. A mental illness is any disorder that affects the range of thoughts, mood, or behavior. Most commonly, anxiety and depression account for the majority of mental illnesses in recovery. When first diagnosed, this may seem like a shock or perhaps appear to be a mistake. After all, this doctor doesn’t know you, right?
Accepting A Diagnosis
It’s important to be honest while meeting with your doctor. Ideally, a diagnosis would be made after having been off of drugs for at least a month. However, there are patterns related to certain disorders and illnesses that are common characteristics of that particular illness. Only you will know in your heart whether or not the diagnosis seems correct. In any case, a mental illness diagnosis is not the end of the world. In fact, most artists and musicians have suffered from some form of mental illness at one time of their lives. Mental illness and drug addiction usually go hand in hand, as the addict and alcoholic seemingly try to self medicate with drugs and alcohol. Much like the first step of addiction, the first step in recovery from a mental illness is accepting the diagnosis.
Asking your doctor questions about your mental illness is extremely important also. From medication management to avoiding stressors, your doctor is the best person to ask and develop a plan of recovery with to insure that you can lead a happy and healthy life. When I was diagnosed with major depression, I didn’t know that exercise and a healthy diet along with medication could actually help me to avoid depressive swings. Minor things like blood sugar and releasing endorphins that seem so obvious we’re a world away until I asked my doctor whom I trusted. Meditation also became a regular practice of mine, as recommended by my therapist.
Talk About It
From group and private therapy to Emotions Anonymous meetings, whatever you’re going through doesn’t have to be done alone. In fact, the World Health Organization states that over 350 million people in the world suffer from depression. Although it might seem like a dark diagnosis, there are many other people who have gone through similar experiences. As you’ve learned in recovery from drugs and alcohol, you don’t have to go through anything alone anymore.
Don’t Give Up
If you’ve been diagnosed with a mental illness, you aren’t alone. This isn’t a death sentence or a prison stint. There are precautions you can take to protect yourself from severe episodes and there are people everywhere who are going through a similar experience. While medication can have side effects, working with a doctor or care team that you trust is a great step in protecting yourself from having your mental illness get out of control. The stigma of mental illness is outdated and currently only a screen to protect the accusers from being found that they or their loved ones suffer from the same disorders. The biggest stigma is against untreated mental health disorders, and is both sad and preventable. By looking after your mental health with the same compassion as you would a sick child, you may begin to see just how strong you are and how manageable life is with a mental illness when the proper measures are taken. The stigma of mental illness is one that comes from fear and a lack of insight. By educating yourself, trusting your doctor, and talking about it, you’ll in time shed light on something that is totally manageable and treatable, much like alcoholism and drug addiction.
If you’re diagnosed with a mental illness of any sort, knowing that there is treatment and support available can seem like a huge safety net. Many of us in recovery have a duel diagnosis, and many of us lead happy, healthy, and successful lives. Talk to your doctor and therapist about what treatment and support options are available for you. Education is the best defense against a mental illness, as it will open up various doors for treatment and support groups. There’s nothing wrong with having a mental illness, as many of us in recovery have had to battle our demons at one point or another. Now more than ever is important to break the stigma of mental illness. Please contact us if you or your loved one is suffering from a mental illness.