We place people in categories, not always intentionally but it happens. Sometimes we are not aware. Most times we don’t admit it. Consider for a moment what happens when you are out and about during your day. Here is a scenario:
“It’s late evening. You arrive at the mall and get out of your car. You start towards the entrance. A person is walking towards you. You assess them, man or woman, age, race, clothes, type of walk, are there shopping bags, are they giving you eye contact…”
Who did you see? Your answer is based on what your past experiences are right? How much of what you saw was influenced by the criteria I gave you? The suggestion for you to “assess them” was given by me. How much of that influenced your result of what you visualized? What we see on the news, on television, and online can influence what we think. This is where stigmas come into play.
Stigmas are the result of being given the criteria of which to judge someone. Out of “ignorance” Hollywood has created the “horrific images” of what mental illnesses are. There have been instances where there were persons who’ve committed heinous acts in the name of “insanity” but I’m not talking about them.
Most people battling a mental illness are too preoccupied with their illness and the symptoms to consider harming you. More often than not persons battling mental illness are afraid of you. A person with a Social Anxiety disorder may appear as a threat to the person not familiar with the symptoms.
Seeing someone who can’t catch their breath and who may get up and rush out of the room, brushing past people in search of someplace private to try to calm down; some may mistake those actions for aggression. The same person can seem like “they are on drugs” when looking around the room and breaking into a sweat and swaying from being dizzy. Most people associate drug use with violence right? That in turn justifies in their minds avoiding or “getting away from” persons having those symptoms.
What Social Anxiety Looks like...
A person having psychosis symptoms due to Schizophrenia could be seen as a danger because they are talking to someone who’s not there. Although technology has more people walking around with “Bluetooth” in their ears and talking, to realize someone doesn’t have one causes an alarm to go off.
What if you stopped for a moment to consider what it may be like to have someone speak to you who’s not there. To receive “commands” throughout your day to do things like “run because someone is following you”. Imagine the amount of fear someone battling Schizophrenia must experience on a daily basis.
What a person experiencing Schizophrenia may hear...
People judge persons with Eating Disorders saying, “Why can’t they see they look fine?” How many times have you made a joke about someone being “anorexic”? In a room of 200 people 1 of them is possibly battling Anorexia Nervosa. To spend your day locked in a space with a negative thought loop telling you that you’re fat and looking at yourself with contempt.
Another matter of Stigma, or category, which is not much discussed, is being the Family Caregiver of someone who is battling mental illness. Many times Family Caregivers face scrutiny from family and friends for their “support” of a loved one with a mental health challenge. They are challenged to implement “tough love” most times from persons who have no prior experience of caring for someone with a mental health challenge.
Often times it will come from hospital staff as well. Being subjected to patients with a host of illnesses throughout the day can sometimes lead to “job fatigue” and a sort of “numbness” when it comes to patients coming in “symptomatic”.
There was an article that summed up the experience so very well called, “9 Things Not to Say to Someone with Mental Illness it gives the perspective from a friend who accompanies a friend to the emergency room, “Julie Fast’s friend went to the hospital for a terrible colitis attack. “It was so serious they sent her straight to the ER.” After reviewing her medical records and seeing that her friend was taking an antidepressant, the intake nurse said, “Maybe this is all in your head.” When it comes to mental illness, people say the darnedest things. As illustrated above, even medical staff can make incredibly insensitive and downright despicable remarks.”
Until I encountered a therapist who’d experienced a mental health challenge and understood what someone who is in the midst of a Manic moment is going through, I felt like a heel for feeling empathy and excusing a rant. I was called an enabler, I wasn’t keeping him accountable. I would push hard about things that were out of his control. I would push even if the medicine makes you sick keep taking it eventually you will feel better because that is what I was told.
As a Family Caregiver and being a full time employee and assisting your loved one can be a challenge. Personal phone calls take on a whole new meaning if there is worry of a Manic Depressive Episode. Leaving the house knowing your loved one is potentially suicidal is terrifying, so there are times when you will “call out”. Late night at the hospital? Call out. Having a rough time after committal or hospital stay? Leave early or call out. Feeling tired and exhausted after a night of being up with a loved one and trying to stay awake in a meeting?
Unable to focus due to fatigue after a night search of a loved one who has gone missing without a call and the last conversation they wouldn’t tell you where they were? All of these factors can contribute to your performance at work suffering. That is why it is good to share this information with your HR department. It is still a difficult decision however. I can remember having a conversation with my supervisor about why I had to leave work one day. Later it was brought up in a disciplinary meeting because I was missing work or late, due to me having to attend to my son; my ability to handle my responsibilities was questioned. Something that would have been seen as a minor was turned into a major. Use discretion and utilize your employee resource department. I didn’t know what resources were available to me at the time. I only knew I needed my job and health insurance.
There is much being done in the area of creating awareness for mental health challenges and for Family Caregivers of persons battling mental illness. The more we talk about it, the more we educate people on it the better the future will be for those who are on this journey and those who support them. If you are a Family Caregiver and full time employed check with your Human Resources department for the services available to you. Here is another resource, “National Caregivers Library".
Wishing you and your family a strong and resilient journey. Praying for your strength. God never gives more than we can handle. Blessings!