“We must act – removing the stigma cannot just be a slogan.”
For many it takes the loss of a love to realize or accept that mental illness can happen to anyone. I certainly never thought i would be diagnosed with one. I was a successful teacher, wife, and mother leading a stable, fulfilling life. I had overcome countless setbacks and reached (and at times exceeded) my goals. I was a straight A student with a Masters degree. An experienced actress and director. A wife and mother living in the suburbs with two healthy children. I assumed I was immune to such things.
I was wrong. I remember feeling such terrible shame, guilt, and horror that I didn’t tell anyone and hid behind closed doors. I thought I had done something wrong and it was all my fault. I felt worthless, hopeless, and helpless. All the light in my eyes had burned out and I became a shadow of my former self–literally, the walking dead doomed to live in an earthly purgatory–doomed to walk endlessly among the living, observing peace, happiness, love, and life but unable to partake in any of it.
Thanks to family, talk therapy, medication, medical procedures, peer support groups, education programs, and a stubborn constitution, I emerged on the other side a better person–a humble and healthier person with more perspective, gratitude, empathy, strength, and confidence. It’s ironic that through mental illness, I learned how to live a healthy life.
Sadly, that doesn’t happen for everyone and a large part of the reason is stigma. Stigma that is often more crippling than the disease itself. Stigma that is perpetuated by the media, the workplace, the health care system, societal ignorance, and isolation even from closest friends and family.
This is one reason I speak out–to give a face and a voice to a cause that still sits on the sidelines and is only addressed in response to violent crimes and tragedies. Wouldn’t it make more sense to take proactive measures to educate and improve mental health and reduce the stigma so people can lead fuller healthier lives? Perhaps if more attention were paid to promoting mental health, there wouldn’t be such high suicide rates that seem to increase each year? Why does it take a tragedy such as the loss of a loved one or a shooting rampage to discuss mental illness? Maybe if politicians focused more on mental health measures than gun control laws, prison reform, media violence, there would be fewer crimes and casualties in the first place. Who knows?
Anyway, I’m thankful to Congresswoman Wild for sharing her story and adding a voice to the battle.