Internalized Stigma Makes It Hard to Be An Advocate For The Mentally Ill
One part of me thinks this article is great. I am glad to see the trend toward including people with schizophrenia in their own treatment. Like every other patient of every other disease we should be consulted and included in our own care. Is it so surprising that including someone in their care leads to better outcomes? I don’t find that study too surprising, it seems obvious.
There are other parts of this article that make me cringe though. Have you ever encountered an article where a cancer patient or a person with diabetes was afraid to use their last name because of stigma? Both of the people with schizophrenia who were interviewed in the article refuse to give their last name because of fear.
How much progress have we made? I live with that fear every day. I am currently applying for jobs and I know because of my personal blog, the book I wrote, articles I have published on The Mighty and this blog on Psych Central that any employer considering me that chooses to look into my background will discover that I have schizophrenia.
It is a risk I took when I decided to become an advocate for myself and others living with schizophrenia. With each employer I don’t hear back from, or each rejection letter, I wonder, is it because I have schizophrenia? I will never know the answers to why certain people interview me and others do not, but it is a real possibility that mental illness is the cause. It is possible that some employers, like many other people, base their decisions about people with schizophrenia on myths and stereotypes.
The part of the article that bothered me the very most was the last paragraph though, where Frank, the young man being interviewed says, “I don’t think of myself as somebody who is mentally ill, you know?” he said. “I think of myself as a regular person.”
In my opinion this is internalized stigma, shame and stereotypes, and it is part of what makes it so hard to be an advocate for the mentally ill. If people that are functioning at a level where they can work, go to school, socialize and participate in all the activities of their peers, but don’t want to identify as mentally ill, then how is the general public ever supposed to know that we are regular or average people? If you never meet someone who is mentally ill and living a successful and fulfilling life then how are you supposed to know that experiences like that are common?
I understand people not wanting to come out publicly with their diagnosis. I hid my diagnosis for over twenty years. I get that, and I don’t blame those people for making that decision. I think it has created a vicious cycle of misunderstanding about mental illness though and I am not certain I see a way of overcoming that misinformation and misunderstanding without people taking the risk to say, “I have schizophrenia and with a few exceptions, my life looks a lot like yours.” How will we ever overcome the stigma without the risk of discrimination? I don’t think we can. There will always be a risk of being treated poorly because of a diagnosis. I’m just thankful that more and more people are finding the courage to speak out, and speak up. I hope it is making a difference. I need to believe it is.
Hiding face photo available from Shutterstock
Chamaa, R. (2015). Internalized Stigma Makes It Hard to Be An Advocate For The Mentally Ill. Psych Central. Retrieved on February 23, 2018, from https://blogs.psychcentral.com/schizophrenia-life/2015/12/internalized-stigma-makes-it-hard-to-be-an-advocate-for-the-mentally-ill/