We’ve come so far in discussing mental illness that we can forget that, like casual sexism, casual stigma still exists. I’ve had a few clashes over the past few weeks that have been a stark reminder that, whether from thoughtlessness or callousness, so many of the old narratives are still strong.
Perhaps the fact that I was struggling to stay healthy during this time made the clashes all the more painful. I have bipolar disorder and as such must carefully manage my health to prevent episodes which, while clearly not fatal as yet, have the potential to become so. I feel like I’m always banging that drum, but mental illness is a life-threatening illness and should be treated as such when we talk about it.
So often the use of psychiatric drugs is vilified as an “easy way out,” which I find blatant; I’d like to announce that someone has taken the easy way out with chemotherapy and see what happened.
Also, anyone who has ever taken psychiatric drugs knows that there is nothing simple about them. They can be tremendously beneficial – I owe them my life, just as my cancer survivor friend owes her chemotherapy – but a bit like chemotherapy, there are difficult elements to treatment.
The other misconception about medication is that it will make you lobotomized and drool a la One flew over the cuckoo’s nest. This was the subject of one of the recent run-ins. Someone I know has a child whose condition can so often be dismissed as “attention seeking” or boldness.
One available support is medication. She’s done all the legwork – asking advice from adults who take it and parents of children who use it – and is seriously considering it. After all, isn’t it absurd that a child would take medication to help with an illness? We all want our children to feel comfortable and not be held back by something that can be helped. This feels like a pretty basic desire, but when she mentioned medication to me and a friend, the friend balked. “But you don’t want to turn the kid into a zombie,” she said.
Sitting across from her, I was tempted to ask, “You think I feel like a zombie? Because you see someone taking three different types of head meds to manage my condition. Three different drugs that help me not to die from my disease!”
Studies have found that people with diagnoses such as ADHD and similar are more likely to have suicidal thoughts and are five times more likely to attempt suicide.
So no, this woman doesn’t want to turn her child into a zombie, she wants her child to have the longest, richest life full of love and contentment as possible, and she understandably wants to give anything that can help a damn go. When it’s suggested that medications like the ones I’m on might be some way out, it always feels like they’re saying I should try harder to avoid becoming bipolar.
The increased discussion of many previously stigmatized diseases have become a double-edged sword. Yes, more understanding and empathy on these issues is wonderful. But we’re so busy congratulating ourselves for speaking more openly about mental illness that we fail on the action side of things.
Lip-service awareness weeks allow government agencies to still shirk their responsibilities to their citizens. In recent years, focus on self-care. It’s kind of like a Trojan horse, if you think about it. A holistic approach with an insidious core of: It’s on you if you can’t stay healthy.
The concept of self-care is inherently neoclassical, placing the responsibility for remedying our mental and emotional exhaustion squarely on us (and only on those of us who actually have the privilege and means) without the opportunity to do the inappropriate change -purpose work, health care, housing and educational structures.
In the absence of rigorous and reliable government action, individual schools and parents themselves are struggling to fill the gap in matters such as caring for children with additional needs. The easy way is not easy, especially when such damaging narratives still infect the discourse.
If you’re worried about a mental illness, talk to your GP
https://www.independent.ie/life/when-it-comes-to-psychiatric-medication-there-are-many-people-who-still-think-taking-it-is-the-easy-way-out-42004213.html When it comes to psychiatric drugs, there are many people who still think that taking them is the “easy way out.”