As a child, I suffered from a panic disorder that went undiagnosed until I was 25. Because no one knew what was wrong with me, everything was wrong with me. Every symptom I displayed was labeled and classified as something else: learning disability, perfectionism, insecurity, processing disorders, hypochondriasis and on we go. I struggled with a self-criticism so intense I became trapped and stuck inside its horrifying whispers.
Even though I’d been going to the ER regularly for panic attacks, I hadn’t accepted that I was struggling with mental illness on any level. Stigma confronted me at every turn; I was dealing with the same stereotypes that anyone influenced by culture would. I couldn’t make sense of my life.
Now, that Jackie is in a better place, she has begun looking into work possibilities. However, the task is daunting, especially because she fears losing her government benefits, which provide a small but steady income per month and most importantly coverage of her schizophrenia medication, which is essential for her health. Since eligibility for these benefits can be affected by income, Jackie doesn’t want to risk losing those benefits because she knows staying healthy is critical.
My own belief is that a brighter future entails less stigma, more respect for the field, stronger evidence-based research and practice, and greater accessibility to services for all. Maybe then can we truly begin to release the burden that mental illness places on our society.
I advocate for myself, and am comfortable with my diagnosis, but I’m reluctant to offer it up casually, being concerned that the stigma against it will hinder any success I might have had in making a new friend. I wish it were different, so I approach it as such. Most of the time. Self-stigma tends to be the one area where I falter. Unwittingly, I will derail my own train, partially due to an inherent shyness, and otherwise to a general discomfort in my own skin.
When I first started on my own health and fitness journey, I was battling severe depression and anxiety. It was probably one of the lowest points of my life. One night, as I was laying I bed, I remembered something my 7th grade health teacher shared with us many years ago.
No mother is on the lookout for schizophrenia unless it is already in the family. It sneaks up on you. It’s cagey. It changes form, this disease, tricking you. This is the thing: if I made you a list of the red flag signs of serious mental illness, and another list of typical teenage behavior, they would be virtually the same list.
Below are the pros and cons of being a graduate student in mental health, as seen through the lens of a social work graduate student. Although this is one perspective, I believe that many of the opinions I express here also resonate with many other professionals in the mental health field.