What kind of question is that? Who would ask someone that? Mental illness stigma at it’s best.
There are still so many comments made by society concerning mental illness, striking close to home with me and my struggles with depression.
Dusting off some old journals, back from my days in the hospital, I came across one stay where I “interviewed” informally some fellow patients enduring their experiences. While there were many more stories; I only selected these three:
These are samples of mental illness stigma and what society perceives.
*Denise in her early ‘20’s gave a rather heartrending account of an outing just that evening with her mother.
Denise’s mother picked her up from the hospital for dinner at a mid-priced restaurant. It was trivial talk mostly, due to the fact that she had just undergone an ECT the day prior and depression was relentless. After dinner, they both drove to the mall where they shopped for a new outfit, but it was on the drive home that anger and that feeling of failure set in.
Denise’s mother asked if they should stop for coffee, but she reacted, “just take me back to the hospital” – and it was then, her mother virtually flew into a rage stating, “You are not even trying to get better”. “I didn’t even have a comeback; I just sat in silence all of the way back to the hospital”. Denise stated. “How fair was that?”
What was her mother annoyed at? Perhaps disappointed that her daughter wasn’t recovering quickly enough or her illness wasn’t as severe? Didn’t she comprehend that Denise had just undergone ECT treatment or was unaware what ECT entailed? Did she have the impression her daughter was perhaps happier back at the hospital?
*Brad in his teens, was very frustrated. He had been in the hospital for 1 ½ weeks and out on a pass with friends for a basketball game. The week was going well until the past couple of days in which he felt even more weighted down with major depression.
He still attended, put on a “happy face”, played as much as he could, but performed poorly. Several friends were aware of his illness and hospitalization due to missing school; others were uninformed. He sat out the majority of the game, with most people commenting “what a loser”, and disappointingly his close friends stating “you are just pretending you’re sick”.
Many adults don’t recognize how to cope with mental illness, let alone younger people. This is not to make excuses, but at times, depression/mental illness is in fact, complex to describe. I have heard the “pretending to be sick” phrase much too frequently. And in Brad’s case, it’s apparent he would rather be healthy and with his friends or he wouldn’t have attended the game at all. Imagine sitting there with friends “poking” fun at you for an illness?
*Andrea told me of her disastrous hospital pass home yesterday and was so furious, she couldn’t spit the words out quickly enough.
In hospital for two weeks, this was her first pass home, only permitted four hours with strict orders that it be accompanied by her husband. The first hour was used up running errands and finally home to visit with her daughter and then simply ‘chill out’.
“I enjoyed being home, but for some reason, I began to feel tense and the overwhelming depression would not let loose”. Her husband drove her back a ½ hour early, and to sum it all up, it was a disappointing pass for all.
Later that evening, she phoned her husband and he said that he had talked to his mom (her mother-in-law), saying, “Mom said you could have at least thrown a couple of loads of washing in when you were home”. “I just lost it”.
“What did this woman think; I was spending the last two weeks at some resort spa, sitting around a pool sipping Margarita’s all day? I was livid. Obviously, she did not know the magnitude of my depression or mental illness or anything for that matter.” “Did she not know this was a psych ward in a real hospital, with real doctors, taking real medication, and I was really sick?”
Instead of wishing Andrea well, expectations were in the works for even her short pass home. The illness of depression was dismissed; it didn’t seem to enter the picture, didn’t seem to matter. She didn’t state if her husband defended her, but she had every right to have this anger.
Mental illness stigma. Has this ever happened to you?
(*Not real names)
Written and copyrighted by Deb McCarthy
also posted on my niume blog https://niume.com/post/48363