So, my neurotransmitters are a bit out of whack….does that give you the right to stigmatize me?

Elizabeth Ryan writes:

I recently became a see change ambassador. See Change is an organization which aims to reduce the stigma of mental health issues and works to bring about positive change in public attitude and behavior towards people with mental health problems. Do you know what the stigma is? Have you thought about how it affects those with mental health issues?

Following a series of emotional and mental “highs” and “lows” (some would probably describe them as meltdowns!), I was diagnosed with mixed state bipolar disorder in March of this year. This has followed 13 years of mainly depressive episodes (slowed down thinking, severely negative thoughts, inability to function “normally”). My episodes most recently have been mainly hypo-manic, which are a whole other kettle of fish (racing thoughts and ideas, delusional thinking, high energy, inability to function “normally”).

Bipolar disorder is a genetic condition which can be aggravated by environmental conditions, mostly obviously, by stress. It, schizophrenia and autism have all been linked to an abnormal ratio inhibitory to excitatory neurotransmitters within the brain. So I guess that’s what I have! Luckily, the symptoms can be treated with pharmaceutical medication (Sometimes it just takes a while to find the right medication).

Adjusting to this challenging illness has been difficult to say the least. From the time of my diagnosis, it took 4 changes in medication and one hospital admission before I really felt in control of my illness. The type and level of support and understanding I have received from those around me has varied from unbelievable and brilliantly supportive to non-existent support and blame. I really don’t feel I should be blamed for an illness that is out of my control. What do you think?

For people battling with mental health issues, one of the main things that can make that battle more difficult is stigma. I recently heard a story about a lady who is worried about people with bipolar disorder because she had a family member with the same condition and this person seemingly “caused a lot of problems within the family”. Do you know what you call this comparison? STIGMA! I am not that person. Did that person receive the correct treatment? Our personalities and how our illness affects us are probably completely different…..this type of storytelling (stigma in this case) makes it more difficult for others to get well…..

My advice? Treat everyone the same and treat their illness as a separate entity. One depressed or bipolar person cannot be compared to another. Each illness is individual due our varying personalities!!! 

Want even more advice? Just be kind, ask people how they are feeling, listen and try to help, if needed. Sometimes the most helpful thing you can do is to let someone know that you are there for them and simply listen.

Cancer is caused by immortal cells. Bipolar Disorder is caused by neutrotransmitter ratios being off. Why does one illness carry a stigma and the other doesn’t?

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