Why is it that in the 21st century, despite some very important and (reasonably) successful battles for equality, we still have painful inequalities and double standards? You’d think by now we’d be past this, but when it comes to illnesses, there is a huge chasm that needs to be closed. Having spent the past week combing one store after another with daughter #2 searching for a prom dress, I keep thinking of an analogy to fashion merchandising. Some illnesses, like the latest designer creations, earn a coveted spot in the window display or on the cover of Vogue. The diseases get lots of funding for research and patient support. Others (i.e. mental illnesses), like last year’s fashions, are shoved to the back of the store on the clearance rack where few people venture, and fewer want to take the time to search through the jumbled mess of odds and ends.
This double standard hit home for us last week, right smack in the midst of some exciting opportunities for daughter #1. She had recently submitted a video for an anti-stigma contest held by our state NAMI affiliate and was selected as one of 11 finalists. This announcement came just as she was in the midst of a series of interviews for a really great job opportunity. My pride and excitement were clouded by my fear that somehow her video entry might impede her chances of being hired. What if the perspective employer did a Google search (most do) and learned about her illness through the contest? I kicked myself for encouraging my daughter to submit the video, and creating this unnecessary and unfair risk.
Thankfully, she got the job. But as her mom, I still worry. I’ve supported and encouraged my daughters to be advocates, to talk about their illnesses, to not feel or show shame. And yet, each time an opportunity comes up, I hold my breath in fear that their honesty and openness will backfire. It shouldn’t be that way, but sometimes it is. And not just for mental illness, there are other disorders that carry stigma – Crohn’s disease, alcoholism and other addictions to name a few.
This is why I believe in and support Bring Change 2 Mind’s mission. At the risk of sounding like an infomercial, I encourage you to support Bring Change 2 Mind in the fight to eliminate stigma. Make a donation (any amount helps), join in one of the NAMI/BC2M walks or sponsor a team or a walker, support BC2M’s project of producing another PSA. It isn’t about HOW you show support, it’s just a matter of SUPPORTING. We must be the vehicle of change.
If you would like learn more about the NAMI Wisconsin video contest and view the 11 videos (all made by high school and college students, click here: http://www.youtube.com/user/namiwisconsin/videos. To vote for any one of the videos (my daughter’s video is titled “Mania: Do You Know What it’s Like”) click here: http://tolu.na/16I4mhy.
Nanci Schiman is a licensed social worker with a Master’s degree from the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She has over 10 years’ professional experience in child and adolescent mental health, family support, advocacy, writing, public speaking and collaborating with local and national mental health organizations. On a personal level Nanci and her husband are parents of three daughters ages 16, 18 and 20. The oldest and youngest were diagnosed with bipolar disorder at ages 9 and 10 respectively.