Editor at Large: As I See It
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
Whatever happened to stigma? Where is it? New York City? New York State? The United States of America? All over! Lately the media has singled us out once again! This time a schizophrenic has done this; another schizophrenic has done that! How does it make you feel? It makes me mad. I'm labeled! A nut… I'm violent… I'm feared! Yet, in fact, I'm none of these. You, I'm sure, have done nothing wrong.
STIGMA is like the plague. It's not death, but deadly to the soul. It's guilt by association of sorts. If I have mental illness so it follows that I must be dangerous. It gets me mad. How does it affect you, or your siblings, or your parents that you have mental illness?
Sometimes my illness gets me down. I mean besides the stigma. I do have limitations due to the illness. I have Tardive Dyskinesia, and my concentration is shot due to years of medication. I haven't read a newspaper in years. Also, every day I fight the trauma I experienced in my youth that has damaged me emotionally.
I fight daily just getting to my part-time job on time. That is an achievement. I do it and I'm proud. I work and do my job well.
I've been married for eleven years to a wonderful woman. I owe her my life. Without her I would have jumped in front of a subway train long ago. My greatest accomplishment after marriage is my freedom of nineteen years.
I'm not sure why I am saying all this. Why? Oh yes! STIGMA!
We work so hard taking those awful pills, going to programs of one sort or another. Our dream is a job that pays a living wage instead of a check, a home to call our own, friends, and maybe a spouse. That's what most of us want if given the opportunity.
But the public believes in, "Out of sight, out of mind!" Well, I say we are visible. Isaac Brown of the Brooklyn Peer Advocacy Project and Julius Green of The Howie T. Harp Peer Advocacy Center and other consumers really stuck their necks out for us. Right out in front on subway posters for the New York City Department of Mental Health, Mental Retardation, and Alcoholism Service's anti-stigma campaign, "Treatment is Working." Guts and more than that. They truly believed that they had to step forward because to destigmatize mental illness helps us all.
I say to you, STAND UP! The future will soon be yours. Stand up now. Be seen at consumer meetings, conferences, rallies in Albany and at City Hall! You will be doing it for no one else but yourself.
When you listen and talk to consumer advocates, hear what has and is being accomplished. You will be surprised at the amount of effort involved… for you! However, new blood is needed. Change takes time, unfortunately. However, change has occurred. Our opinions are asked for and heeded. We are on all mental health policy boards. It is the law! We have the right, so we should use it.
Change has occurred but what about your future and those who are just entering the system? The picture doesn't look so rosy. The Involuntary Outpatient Commitment Bill is now law! Your rights can be abridged. Your governor, not mine, cut twenty-five million dollars from the mental health budget. Where will the cuts be? I don't know, but you can be sure we will all find out one way or another.
Hard times are ahead. Easy streets are over. Am I being pessimistic or realistic? I'm not 100% sure! Prove me wrong by getting involved!