There are a lot of terms that have been used to describe people with mental illness over the years. Crazy. Unreasonable. Uncontrollable. Psycho. Disturbed. Schizo. In 2007, the National Center for Biotechnology Information released a study concluding over 250 negative terms associated with those who have mental illnesses.
These labels are a major part of the stigma surrounding mental health issues. They play a major role in why funding — and change — has been so slow in this area of healthcare. Access is still far more limited than most people realize.
The impact of this stigma makes many people with mental illnesses feel like they have to hide.
They have real-life implications, in the sense that someone finding out can mean a lost job, an ended relationship, and further lost opportunities. It can open the door for discrimination, allowing a workplace to abuse an employee and then blame their breaking under that on their mental health issues.
Bell Lets Talk was a couple weeks ago now, and like it does every year, the conversation around mental health has dwindled to a quiet hum, with only those who usually speak out continuing to raise their voices.
But the conversation really, really desperately needs to keep going. We need to keep fighting these stigmas.
One stigma, in particular, is that someone with mental illness should be easily identifiable. That the terms listed above should be capable of describing them. While it can certainly be visible in people with BiPolar 1, Schizophrenia, and a few other illnesses, many can also pass under the radar.
Those with BiPolar 2 disorder (previously known as Manic Depressive Disorder) have this happen quite frequently.
This is the category I fall into. Because the highs (manic states) are not as out there as those with BiPolar 1, many doctors misdiagnose with clinical depression, prescribing antidepressants to help lift them out of their depression.
However, much like BiPolar 1, our illness is a pendulum. A high can often indicate a massive swing to a low is coming. It swings back and forth, but whereas those with 1 tend to see larger, more erratic manic states, people with 2 end up in much longer, deeper depressive states. Our swings are less frequent and our manic stages tend to be much shorter.
These misdiagnoses can often aggravate the illness because the anti-depressants are designed to lift mood rather than to balance it. It can seemingly work for a while, but eventually, starts to push the pendulum effect into play, making it even more frequent than it should be.
Today’s story — and the last one in this current series* — is similar to my own.
Thankfully, he didn’t have to go through the literal mental breakdown I did in order to figure things out. Eventually, he was able to gain access to an assessment through CAMH and receive a proper diagnosis.
For him, his journey to overcoming and pushing through his diagnosis is still fairly new.
(The name has been changed in this story to protect the identity of the individual).
For those who know him, Adam is a normal guy. He’s a father, a husband, and although socially cautious, a joy to be around. He often comes off as quiet and contemplative. Without knowing him in depth, one would have no idea of his struggles.
“I have been diagnosed with depression and BiPolar Type 2,” he explained. “The depression diagnosis was about 10 years ago, whereas I was only recently diagnosed with BiPolar.”
In Adam’s life, one of the hardest parts of his battle is the lack of predictability surrounding his low episodes.
“Not knowing when the depressive benders will occur, or how severe they be is difficult,” he said. “Sometimes they only last a day. Other times, they can last weeks or longer.”
The other hard part, he added, is dealing with the societal stigma surrounding mental illness.
“I believe society is coming around and becoming more accepting of mental illness,” Adam explained.
“That being said, in the corporate world, I still feel there is a stigma. Those with admitted mental health issues are looked down on. Sometimes, they are even targeted.”
Identifying the hardest moments of his battle can be difficult, as it is for many. There is rarely one defining moment that trumps the rest — most often it is a culmination of bad moments.
“Frankly, there’s a lot I’m still working on overcoming,” Adam said. “I have to admit that it’s hard to tell people — even those you are close with, even family — that you struggle with this. I also struggled for many years with acknowledging my illness to myself. With making myself believe I did have a mental illness. I had to work past the way my family brought me up to think that mental illness wasn’t an illness, but rather a character flaw, a weakness. It was something to be buried deep, deep down.
Where Adam lives, access to any kind of specialist healthcare is difficult, but access to mental health care is even less likely to be found.
“There is a major lack of proper mental health care in this area,” he said. “As such, despite my diagnosis, I haven’t been able to find proper mental health supports. I have to rely on the non-specialized care of a family physician. Although they do the best based on their limited mental health training, I regularly wonder what my mental health care would look like if I had access to a proper mental health professional.”
When asked about the key to being able to get out of bed and keep moving every day was, Adam’s biggest force is his responsibilities.
“For me, being the primary breadwinner and having that responsibility to my spouse and children is what keeps me going every day. Years upon years of bottling emotions and feelings are what get me through. Is it a healthy way of living? Not really. But you do what you have to do.”