After a long time spent denying I even had a mental illness (Bipolar in case you were curious) to myself and those around me life events compelled me to admit it and later to take action by telling my story.
Why did I decide to share my story after so many years of “living in the shadows”. There are several reasons: taking away the power denial & fear held over me; identifying with my “tribe” of fellow persons with mental illness; frustration over the the still powerful stigma surrounding mental illness; and a feeling that telling my story in writing as well as in person could have a positive impact. An impact not only on those with mental illness, but also on those around them, in hopes that the ripple effects of my tiny actions could help effect larger social changes over time.
Reducing, and ultimately eliminating the stigma, could enable folks to ask for help they need battling their particular brand of mental illness, and be treated with dignity when they ask for help.
We have come a long way since the days of asylums and the horrors we learned about in “Willowbrook” when investigative reporter Geraldo Rivera’s 1972 exposé documentary of the Willowbrook State School revealed gruesome conditions and neglected mentally disabled children.
That being said, we as a society in the USA, have more work to do. The National Academy of Pediatrics recently called for universal screenings of teens for depression. That’s a good start towards early detection of signs/symptoms and then addressing any issues that are discovered with the young person and their family so appropriate action can be taken.
Many businesses have incorporated EAP (Employee Assistance Programs) into their Human Resource offerings and including mental wellness initiatives in their array of services.
Public policy has begun to shift and forced insurers to give parity to treating mental illnesses similarly to how physical illnesses in terms of coverage for services.
I believe in the motto “Ideas+Action=Change” and several friends & colleagues have described me as a Change Agent. I suppose a case can be made for that descriptor when I look at how far I’ve come and the actions I’ve taken since my 2013 “awakening” if I might borrow a term from another social change movement. First, I told my story in an essay published in the NAMI Voice newsletter (June 2013) titled “Out of the Shadows”.
More recently, thanks to inspiration from a colleague (Mike Veny) who is a reknowned speaker on Mental Wellness, I’ve begun a public speaking campaign in my area aimed at catalyzing positive change by opening up and telling my story. By informing individuals and groups in the nonprofit/human services, education, and business community, I hope to lay the groundwork for a future world where the stigma around mental illness no longer has the same power it has today.