DBT Peer Connections

Building Hope, Community and Skillful Means

Fighting Mental Health Stigma: The Power of Your Personal Story

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RecoverThere are plenty of reasons why not to share your mental health story and one very important reason why to share  your mental health story; the only way to really fight the shame and stigma of having a mental disorder is for us who have mental disorders to stop acting as if we are ashamed of our mental health status, i.e., hiding and protecting our mental health diagnoses like a dark secret or a skeleton in a closet. The mental health movement would be wise to follow our LGBT friends example. It is time for us to come out of the closet about mental health. In the end, it is the only way we will truly conquer stigma.

I have come to find that sharing one’s story is not only powerful but the most powerful tool one has to fight stigma. Therefore, I shout it loud and proud that I have borderline personality disorder and I am not ashamed. The more I say it too, the better I feel about myself. My goal is to show that there are real people behind the diagnosis who are not only decent, likeable persons, contradicting stereotypes but who are working hard to overcome their mental health challenges and be productive members in their communities and society at large.

However, if you are going to go public like me and use your suffering as a positive tool to advocate for ending stigma against mental disorders, it is best to stay mindful of the image you project as you are essentially setting a tone for your diagnosis or diagnoses in the public eye, so be aware of and intentionally work to counteract stereotypes. Write your story in terms of recovery, avoid going into detail about extreme behaviors/symptoms or sharing your story while dissociating, emotionally dysregulated, etc. Share while you are in your wise mind and always be aware and considerate of your audience. Even though stigma may cause you to become justifiably angry or frustrated, responding to these emotions is rarely effective at getting others to see your point of view.

Finally, if you are unsure whether your posting is appropriate for public consumption, remember this; if you would not feel comfortable with your parents, grandparents, or children (if applicable) reading your story, do not publish it online.

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Author: Rachel Gill

I am a survivor on mission to synthesize balance from division, to find dialectical healing, learn to love what I am feeling, live in the now, show my peers how.

23 thoughts on “Fighting Mental Health Stigma: The Power of Your Personal Story

  1. When I talk about having BPD I use The Hulk as an example of how sometimes I have difficulty controlling my anger but I can also focus that anger into something positive (like being an Avenger!). I also make sure I mention that my anger comes from a place a pain and protection. A lot of people seem to miss out on that.

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  2. Reblogged this on Pride in Madness and commented:
    Since I do this a lot here are some things to think about!

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  3. Found you through Pride in Madness! I’m totally on board with you. In fact, I invite you to participate in my blog series Breaking the Silence of Stigma. You can read what other people have written by entering the term “interviews” in the search field. If you or any or your readers would like to share your stories, please feel free to email me at dinaleah at hotmail dot com. Thanks for this wonderful post!

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    • Thank you for your support and invitation, I would love to be a part of your anti-stigma project. The more we unite, the stronger our voice and message becomes. At the moment, I have a ton of homework to do and a rough draft for a term papers that is due so I will be be hitting the books after this post and I will email you in the next few days for details. All the best! ¯\(◕‿◕)/¯ *•.¸¸.•´¯`♥ Ƹ̴Ӂ̴Ʒ

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  4. Seriously pride, YOU DO NOT HAVE A BORDERLINE PERSONALITY DISORDER!!!! and are being led down a garden path to what could lead to self destruction. Too many lives have already been destroyed by this ridiculous diagnosis. BDP is real, 75% of women sitting in prisons today are said to have it. Do you really want to identify with this group! Those who are not in prison are abusing those around them, blackmailing them and torturing them with the constant threat of suicide and self harm, (their spouses, their children), committing crimes, expecting to be able to use childhood abuse as a mitigating factor if they are caught, and generally using other people to get what they want. Is this really you? If you continue to identify yourself as a member of this notorious group in psychiatric circles, this is who people will think you are? Trust me pride, this is a diagnosis for someone who commits crimes.

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    • I can’t believe I just read this on an anti-stigma site. This is one of the most hurtful and dangerous things you could possibly say to a person living with BPD.

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    • When I first read your comment, I wanted to send it straight to the recycle bin, where I would not be bothered by the feelings of rejection it caused within me again, but then my wise mind asked what would I learn from that? Therefore, Instead, I decided to publish your comment because, if nothing else, it provides a powerful testament to the extreme nature of prejudice people with BPD often face.

      Lastly, I have a few choice words I wanted to say to you.

      May your life be full with love. May you find support and nurturing when you need it most. May you feel connected to and accepted by others. May you experience all the warmth, compassion, and kindness that I wish for you as well as myself and that someday you may come to realize this. What we have does not make us who we are. ♥╣◕◡◕╠♥

      Love and kindness,
      Rachel Cara Gill
      BPD Survivor
      DBT Peer support

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      • Dear Rachel, I am a BDP survivor too – my PTSD was caused by a BDP mother with whom I have had a very close and turbulent (and very loving) relationship for 52 years. So what you describe as extreme prejudice is actually first hand experience with someone who suffers BDP.

        The circumstances of my mother’s life are, to a large extent, unimaginable to today’s young people. Her suffering was beyond what most humans could endure. I always understood that and because of that I accepted her and loved her in ways most children could not. At a very young age, I provided financial support, psychological and emotional support and did whatever I could do to try to make her life easier including ignoring my own needs, hopes, dreams and desires. All while being psychologically and emotionally tortured and sexually abused.

        The thing about BDP’s is that they will do just about anything they have to do to survive which includes hurting other people if necessary. I do not blame them for this type of mentality (the will and the belief in the right to exist and live are very powerful psychic forces) but I do expect them to take responsibility for their actions in terms of exercising self control. No need to broadcast to the world that you have a problem you cannot solve (supposedly). No need to ask for support and acceptance. No need to ask for special consideration and government hand-outs. Only a need to exercise some semblance of self control. Much of the stigma associated with mental illness has to do with perceptions of overwhelming selfishness and self-centredness.

        I know nothing of your life history or your suffering or your experience in the mental health care system, what I do know is that a diagnosis of borderline personality disorder is best made and can only be made by A FORENSIC PSYCHIATRIST- one who specializes in the criminal mind (on one hand, on the other – determining the effects of victimization). Before you announce to the world that you have a BDP, I suggest you invest in obtaining a diagnosis by a psychiatrist who is qualified to make such a diagnosis. Trust me, once you ask for sympathy and support for what is essentially viewed by both psychiatrists and outside observers as criminal behavior at the worst, socially unacceptable behavior at the best, you will lose your credibility and any gains in the fight against stigma and discrimination will be lost forever.

        I love all people, I believe in all people, I want all people to have the opportunity to lead a meaningful life, especially those who have been cursed with a ‘mental illness’, – especially those who have had difficult and traumatic childhoods and few chances for love and acceptance. I love the ‘broken ones’, the shattered hearts hungry for a home, – I want nothing but the best life has to offer for them.

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      • Dear Fiesta,

        I think you might have your “Personality Disorder Nomenclature” mixed up. Antisocial Personality Disorder is the one that is associated with criminal behavior, no remorse for hurting people/animals, setting fires, etc. THAT is the one that needs a Forensic Psychiatrist or Psychologic to diagnose and treat. Borderline Personality Disorder does not share those characteristics. It’s very dangerous to make statements such as you have above, because people with Borderline Personality Disorder often suffer from self-loathing and insecurity, and have a very high suicide rate. If you really “love all the broken ones”, you will abstain from publicly writing things that could easily tip them over the edge. And please do educate yourself regarding the DSM criteria for the Personality Disorder cluster!

        All the best to you,

        Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA, FAAP

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      • Thank you for sharing your expertise, Dr. Schulman, and I agree educating ourselves on DSM criteria is a smart thing to do. In fact, I got the new DSM-V for my birthday a few months back. Knowledge is power.
        DSM-v

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      • What a great birthday present! Wish I’d thought of that 😉 Maybe next year. Thank you so much for putting together this wonderful blog, and for hanging in there!

        All the best,

        Laura

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      • This is much more thoughtful. Thank you for sharing. I wish you well and am a social and behavioral sciences major who conducts independent research into borderline personality disorder, dialectical behavior therapy and suicidal behavior, own the DSM-VI-TR (the US standard diagnostic manual) and just got the brand new DSM-V for my birthday because I am nerdy like that, and forensic psychologists specialize in assessing people for court cases, disability claims, and comptency claims, they do not specialize in clinical psychology. I just had to meet with one a few months ago. I have had over half a dozen assessments in the past 4 years and they all came up BPD.

        Moreover, two people who have BPD are no more the same than two people who have a tumor. Although they may have similar symptoms, they will present themselves differently in every individual. It is very complex. I have BPD and so does my mother and while we are both equally intense in emotion we have different problem behaviors. There is no easy solutions and the more we can discuss freely about mental health problems the closer we get to answers that will lead us to treatments that work like dialectical behavior. I say a prayer of love and kindness for Marsha Linehan every day. She is a scientist who loves her subjects, which is controversial to say the least. She is saving lives though, healing tortured souls, bringing us back from hell, hallelujah!

        Look, I do not like the label borderline personality disorder. It may as well be dangerous unpredictable disease as it more a judgment of character than a description of the nature of the disorder which is essentially an emotion regulation disorder. In the end, what I am broadcasting is a call to conversation about mental health so we can all get down to the business of healing, wellness. Mental problems are so taboo and I am saying I refuse to stay silent in my suffering anymore. I know I am not the only one who is suffering and if I open the door and step outside the closet maybe others will come too and we can build a community of support.

        I appreciate your sharing and the tone and thoughtfulness you put into replying. I have a much better idea of where you are coming from. We still have a long journey before there is agreement in the field of clinical psychology and people who have emotional health problems (and I will be doing my part as an advocate and future clinician). Until then we will just all have to do our best to meet each other half way. Thank you for meeting me. All the best.

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      • Sorry Rachel, I would just like to make one further comment and I very much appreciate you allowing me to share my beliefs on the subject of mental illness which I realize differ significantly from your own.

        I have, as I mentioned, struggled with psychological and emotional problems since I was 12 years old. The stresses in my life were just too much and I made a serious attempt at suicide at that age. I am glad I survived as today I have what I consider to be a very good life. (there for but the grace of God and a true miracle in my life, go I) I have not had what you could call success in any chosen career but I do have something far more important – a loving relationship with a very kind, gentle, caring man who has given me the acceptance, support, self esteem, sense of self worth and confidence required to survive in what is a very brutal world. To me giving and receiving love are the only things that matter in this life.

        The mental health care system did not help me survive, my husband did. My husband is a devoutly religious man who is extremely well educated and well read. Through him, I discovered that my struggles to cope with and survive in the world could be made easier by understanding different philosophies of life, not by seeking care in the mental health care system. It is very difficult to explain but mental health care professionals are not adequately qualified to provide ‘wisdom’. Science does not help us live our lives – wisdom does. Key Wisdom: our expectations are to a large extent responsible for our mental health problems. Change our expectations and our lives will change accordingly. (this is something we must learn as adults, children essentially living without parental guidance and support can never be expected to know this, and can never be held responsible for not possessing such wisdom)

        This does not apply to biologically based illnesses, those for which we should probably seek medical care.

        Thank you again for letting me share my thoughts and feelings on the subject of psychological and emotional pain and suffering and my own strategy for survival.

        Take care and I hope that if you ever need a miracle in your life, and we all do, it comes to you. Always remember, and this is a belief that kept me alive during my early years, Jesus loves you even if it seems no one else does. We need faith to sustain us in this life. Supposedly God never gives us problems we cannot handle. Young people suffering today need to know, that suicide is not the answer. You may not end up having the life you dreamed of or wanted, but you will find what you truly need to be happy. Never give up and never give in.

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  5. And thank you for not discarding my comment… If you wish warmth and kindness and compassion for yourself, then you must be a warm, kind, compassionate person. We are never entitled to receive from others that which we do not give. A diagnosis of mental illness does not absolve us of our responsibility to behave in a civilized and ethical way towards others and is not an excuse for doing so. To the extent those diagnosed with certain mental illnesses believe it is an excuse for such behavior, outside observers will see us all as untrustworthy,and socially unacceptable individuals. I do not judge those with a mental illness any differently than those not diagnosed with a mental illness. I judge you by your actions and how you behave towards others.

    You say that what we have does not make us who we are yet you choose to label your own personality (your inner being, your essential self, that which makes you different from all others) as that of a Borderline Personality Disorder. By definition, your personality is exactly who you are. In philosophy Self = Personality. And psychiatry has its origins in philosophy. You would be wise to understand that your essential self, your fundamental being, has been labelled by mental health care professionals as seriously maladjusted, that is exactly who they believe you are – your entire being has been labelled, not just one tiny little part of you that you can cast off as an insignificant part of you. And it is not a flattering label. And I would not encourage anyone with this particular label to broadcast it to the world.

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  6. Pingback: The Real Example | Pieces of Me

  7. Dear Laura P. Schulman, MD, MA, FAAP,

    Why did I have the diagnosis of BDP tossed out by one of top chief provincial forensic psychiatrists in my province in favor of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder? I know far more about the diagnosis than you give me credit for. I was diagnosed as a BDP by a psychiatrist attempting to defend himself against a sexual assault complaint, as well as by his colleagues, also attempting to protect him from the consequences of his actions. If what you say is true, that I have my personality disorder facts mixed up, why would a psychiatrist be able to use the fact that I was a so-called BDP to defend himself in sexual assault case?

    Many of the young women diagnosed with BDP do not actually have BDP, they will be suffering from PTSD or complex PTSD. Many of the symptoms overlap and in cases where these women have suffered extreme childhood abuse as I did, they will be suffering from PTSD (complex PTDS). The treatment for this disorder is far different than DBT and may be far more helpful to them in overcoming their challenge to survive. All that is required to relieve much of their suffering is the simple knowledge that they do not have a BDP. The diagnosis of PTSD does not involve a subjective judgement as to a person’s character deficiencies nor therapy for such character deficiencies and costs far less than DBT. I am afraid I love the broken ones far more than any psychiatrist or psychologist ever will and would not mislead them with the type of misinformation that many so-called mental health professionals bandy about in an attempt to make a living.

    If after treatment by a therapist, a patient can still be pushed over the edge by factual writings, the patient needs a new diagnosis, a new therapist or both. Fragility is a characteristic that can be easily addressed in a short period of time by a truly committed therapist who provides acceptance and support to a patient and encourages a patient’s family to do likewise. It does not take years and thousands and thousands of dollars to ‘cure’. (and thousands and thousands and thousands and thousands….. of dollars, taxpayers or otherwise). A patient may be dependent on a therapist for a short period of time, but will in the end, be able to function in the world more constructively and independently. I take serious issue with such therapies as DBT which may or may not provide relief from suffering and with those mental health professionals who expect to be paid for this type of experimental therapy which comes with no guarantees. And to be perfectly honest, after my ‘experience’ in the mental health care system, I have my doubts about the mental health care profession and its ability to provide relief from human suffering. My fellow human beings are far better therapists than those with no end of letters after their names.

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    • Well, you’re right, I do have a lot of letters after my name. I keep them there to remind myself that even though I am totally disabled and literally living in a half-wrecked barn due to bipolar disorder,PTSD, and a few other things with letters….I am still basically the same human being who worked her way through all the kinds of school you have to go through to get those letters after your name. And that was a result of managing to leave prostitution and drug addiction, which helped me to survive when I was a teenage runaway. Yes, the letters do sometimes get me in trouble when somebody thinks I’m trying to play the “doctor card,” but if anyone wanted to stop by my blog and read the “About,” they’d get a better idea of where I’m coming from. But it is really rough not being able to work after all that, and I’m sure I do get too big for
      my britches at times 🙂 no offense meant….L

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  8. This is generally well thought-out a progressive inclination because when patients spend extended periods in top mental hospitals in India they have a propensity to become overly dependent and lose interest in taking care of them.

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  9. Stigma is one of the most challenging aspects of living with a mental health condition. It causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control and prevents many from seeking the help they need and speaking out. In order to address this problem, we asked our Facebook community, “What is the best way to end stigma?” Here are some of the responses we received:

    Talk openly about mental health. “Mental illness touches so many lives and yet it’s STILL a giant secret. Be brave and share your story.” –Lindsey Watkin Lason
    Educate yourself and others about mental health. “Challenge people respectfully when they are perpetrating stereotypes and misconceptions. Speak up and educate them.” –Yvonne Lucas
    Be conscious of your language. “Saying someone is “retarded” or using (or even mentioning) the “N” word is politically incorrect, but it’s still fine to throw around words like crazy, psycho, lunatic, etc.” –Michele Croston
    Encourage equality in how people perceive physical illness and mental illness. “We should explain mental illness as similar to any other illness. When someone acts differently or “strange” during diabetic shock we don’t blame them for moral failings.” –William Newbill
    Show empathy and compassion for those living with a mental health condition. “Love, we can all use more education, but that will not make people change their opinions. When you love and respect people, love and respect all of them. You have a desire to learn more about who they are and what their life is like.” –Megan Wright Bowman
    Stop the criminalization of those who live with mental illness. “Professionals and families together need to talk to neighborhood groups, law enforcement, hospitals and legal experts to share experiences and knowledge on interacting with mentally ill.” –Valerie E. Johnson
    Push back against the way people who live with mental illness are portrayed in the media: “Push back hard against the media and politicians and pundits that simply deflect real social issues such as gun control to the realm of “psychos” causing mass shootings.” –Michele Croston
    See the person, not the illness: “Talk about your family and friends with mental illnesses any time a conversation invites the opportunity; with an open heart, love, and real information about the real human being that they are; they are not their condition.” –Sheryl Schaffner
    Advocate for mental health reform. “It’s empowering people whenever and wherever you can. It’s also writing legislators. It’s also talking in front of a board of commissioners to advocate for continued mental health funding… It’s doing the right thing and treating others justly.” –Danielle Hoover

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