A week or so ago, Elisha Goldstein interviewed me on his insightful blog, “Mindfulness and Psychotherapy.” Click here to get to it. I have excerpted below his question regarding stigma.
Elisha: There’s a lot of stigma around mental illness and from your writings I know you’ve heard your share. This stigma can reinforce deep feelings of shame and deepen the grooves of the thoughts of “failure.” Can you share with us a few of these statements, how they’ve affected you and what people should do when they hear them?
Therese: This is ultimately why I wrote the book … to educate people in hopes that we can eliminate some of the stigma. When I was getting ready to send out copies, I made a list of the people who would really “get it” and appreciate the book. I wasn’t going to give a copy to the family members and friends who I thought would shake their head and say something under their breath about victim me being caught up in my wounds. But Eric said to me, “It’s easier to give this to the folks who will agree with you. If you are serious about this mission of educating people about mental illness, I suggest you give it to those who might be confused or ticked off.” So I did. And I received some cold, apathetic responses. I expected that. But a neighbor approached me in tears and said she better understood a family member, and a good friend of mine called me up in tears. “I know I must have been one of those people who said hurtful things to you, and I am so sorry,” she said. “I just really had no idea what you were dealing with until I read this.”
One of the most hurtful statements was when a friend asked me, “Do you WANT to get better?” which suggests that getting better is only a matter of willing ourselves to get better, and that if I stayed suicidal for two years it was because I wasn’t trying hard enough. I think, if someone says something like that to me again, I might say, “Does a person with cancer or diabetes want to get better? Would you fault a person because their chemo wasn’t as effective as it should be? Mood disorders are organic illnesses, too, that can’t always be managed with will power and discipline.” Another confusing statement is that antidepressants and other medicine merely suppress your emotions. I have done a fair amount of research on that, so to that person, I would say, “If you are taking too much of a drug or are on the wrong one, maybe, but my experience is that they have allowed me to feel more deeply.”