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When to Fight the Stigma (and how)

If you’re going to write content for the public in a forum with open comments, you’d better have thick skin.

In my last post I wrote about the financial impact of bipolar disorder on employers, and advised people working hard to manage the disease not to disclose it to their manager.

While I only received one negative comment, it was acerbic. Several people contacted me through my website about the post, and I got an earful from some people I know.

It’s likely that more people then I heard from disagreed with my stance and thought that people managing mental illness well have a duty to come out and fight the stigma.

Let me first agree with them, to a point. Those of us who live well despite bipolar disorder should hold ourselves out as examples of how one with a serious mental illness can thrive. We can inspire others struggling but working hard toward wellness, and we can stand opposed to society’s low expectations of those with mental illness.

But we should not be militant about it, and we should avoid identifying with the disorder.

It is a disorder after all, and it can inhibit expected social functioning. If we want to function well in society there are certain mores we must follow and general expectations we must meet. This is not hypocrisy or fear, it is pragmatic.

Very few people with physical diseases wear their challenges on their sleeves. They quietly wage a fight against illness and hold to a goal to live as independently as possible. Society is right to expect the same of people with mental illness.

Only then can we successfully fight the stigma, as positive role models – neighbors, family members, and friends – who quietly cope and expect no special privileges beyond what is reasonable and offered to others who manage other diseases.

As for being public about it at work, I still think it’s a bad idea. Meaningful work is necessary for healing and self-esteem. It’s also often needed to acquire health insurance, and is mandatory if one is trying to support a family. Finding work, or getting promoted, is unlikely if you’re out telling everyone you have a mental illness.

I walk both sides of the line. I write a blog under my real name with my picture on it in which I have detailed suicide attempts, hospitalizations, and terrible episodes filled with pretty bad behavior. Details about and links to my work are even on my LinkedIn profile!

I feel it’s important to share some of the things I have learned and to help others live successfully with a mental illness.

But I am in a fortunate situation and can do this work. For I know, since this is all out there, that I will never hold a demanding corporate job again. With my diagnosis so public, and with the stigma so severe, no one would hire me despite the fact that I have healed to a point that I could perform well any job I’m qualified for.

In many ways bipolar disorder has enriched my life as well as inhibited it. I feel I have experienced emotions and possibilities available to very few without the disorder. There is good with all of the dysfunction.

I hope I have gathered some wisdom in all the years I struggled with mental illness, and in the recent years when I have lived well with it. I hope I can be the example that disproves the stigma.

Advocates come in many forms.  I am a realist as well. I have bipolar disorder. If I sought a stable, traditional job, which is a noble goal, I wouldn’t be telling strangers about it.

When to Fight the Stigma (and how)

George Hofmann

After much of a life spent in and out of hospitals, jobs, and relationships, George has spent the last dozen years living successfully with bipolar disorder 1. He teaches meditation as an adjunct therapy for mental illness, and writes about the therapies of meditation, movement, and meaningful work. Visit George at www.practicingmentalillness.com


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APA Reference
Hofmann, G. (2019). When to Fight the Stigma (and how). Psych Central. Retrieved on May 21, 2019, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/older-bipolar/2019/04/when-to-fight-the-stigma-and-how/

 

Last updated: 15 Apr 2019
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