Editor-at-Large: As I See It
(Column: Editor-At-Large: As I See It)
Anti-Stigma Education Project
What follows is based on testimony I gave for Reinvestment VI. The testimony is edited with new thoughts. The concept of an Anti-Stigma Education Project remains basic to my heart. I present it here as an idea for thought to my fellow consumers, providers of mental health services, mental health administrators and legislators.
Have you ever heard of a mental illness Walk-A-Thon or Bike-A-Thon? Or Walk Your Dog for Mental Illness? Have you? We all know the answer! But why not? Stigma is the reason. We feel the shame, the fear of disclosure if mental illness would become known.
As a consumer of psychiatric services, I know the deep wounds of stigma and must admit I am not completely free of it as yet.
A knife wound can heal. The wounds society inflicts on those with mental illness pierce our hearts and minds. Mental illness is like no other disease. One doesn't cause the disease, but society blames you anyway. They say you are weak, lazy, it is your fault or that you are even possessed.
Society doesn't know what we go through with diseases like schizophrenia, depression, OCD and others that can destroy our dreams and hopes for the future. Medicines are inexact in the help they give and the possible long-term side effects that can be irreversible. Mental illness generally cuts us down in our youth and can change the course of our lives. I could go on and on, but you know the rest of what we go through. Society just knows stereotypes. They don't know us as individuals.
I have spoken at consumer programs like Continuing Day Treatment, IPRT, MICA, housing and homeless programs as well. Would you believe many consumers still call themselves patients or clients? Some have never heard the word "consumer" for someone who has mental illness! There is a great gulf between the self-hating consumer and the consumer advocate on the other hand. Consumer input is sought by administrators and officials. We run programs for other consumers as well as assist and advocate for consumers in every area of the mental health system.
Consumers need anti-stigma education at the program level. It should be taught by consumers who are now advocates, peer specialists as well as enlightened consumers. This can be a job of love. To help consumers take pride in themselves and work towards recovery where apathy and low self-esteem previously existed would be rewarding and satisfying.
Show movies like "Psycho," "Snake Pit" and "One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest" as well. Discuss the inaccuracies and how we are wrongfully portrayed. Teach the meaning of the words consumer, stigma, self-help and empowerment. Motivate consumers to action. Advocates can help to start self-help, anti-stigma and advocacy support groups. Also, a consumer advocate who shows self-respect, pride and belief in others can be a role model.
Get rid of the myths. Peel off the skin of shame and low self-esteem. Let's start Anti-Stigma Education Projects now!