BringChange2MindPosted: April 8, 2012
Over the weekend, I saw the BringChange2Mind public service announcement for the first time. In it, crowds of people are walking through Grand Central Station. One man walks toward the camera which zooms in on his white tee-shirt. It says “Schizophrenia.” The camera steps back and a woman is standing beside him in an identical tee–only hers says “Mom.” Another couple walks down the steps. His tee says “Post-traumatic Stress Syndrome”; hers says “Battle Buddy.” The camera follows a third couple. On the back of his shirt, it says “Bipolar”. On the back of hers, it says “Better Half.” When Glenn Close and her sister, Jessy walk up, Jessy’s tee says “Bipolar” and Glenn’s says “Sister.” This, naturally, moved me to tears.
The message of the ad is “Change a mind about mental illness and you can change a life.” The campaign tagline is “Working together to erase the stigma and discrimination of mental illness.” For me, there couldn’t be a more timely message.
I am a witness to stigma against mental illness every time Jerri and I are out together. I hear stories of her experiences when she goes out alone. I observe how she wrestles with her own feelings toward others with brain disorders and yes, how I also struggle. This overt discrimination has to STOP. That’s what Glenn and Jessy are trying to achieve.
I’m particularly appalled about discrimination within the healthcare system. On Wednesday, I saw my internist about a minor health issue. He is also Jerri’s doctor and given my rant last week about the-medication-of-which-we-do-not-speak, I thought it a good opportunity to re-iterate my concerns. “I read the PI for Adderall last week, Dr. F, and it’s contraindicated for people who have glaucoma. Did you know Jerri has glaucoma?”
He said he did not, however, he should because I’ve told him before. On multiple occasions.
“Is she still taking classes?” Dr. F. asks this question because Jerri tells him she can’t focus without the Adderall and she needs it for school. He is willing to prescribe the drug if she is in school despite her history of addiction.
“No. Her financial aid was suspended because she needed to complete two-thirds of her coursework with a passing grade. She dropped one of her courses and failed another, so she lost financial aid.”
Dr. F. gives me that look. You know the one. The one that says, “Jerri going to school is a joke. Of course she messed up. She is c-r-a-z-y.” Finger-twirl to right of ear.
I keep talking. I don’t know why. Maybe from guilt. Maybe I too have sent him signals indicating its okay to disrespect her. “She can get it back if she completes two-thirds next semester but she has to pay for the semester on her own and she can’t afford that.” This is more information then Dr. F. needs to know but I seem unable to shut-up.
“Her case worker offered to go with Jerri to the financial aid office, explain Jerri’s situation, and see if they could work out a way for her to continue, but Jerri feels so bad right now, she’s not interested in pursuing it.” Geez, you’d think I WANTED her on this med.
Dr. F’s body language indicates he’s heard enough. He is ready for me to wrap things up.
“She really does seem to feel bad. I know people with depression can experience physical pain and Jerri is very depressed right now. I’m concerned that she’s not eating. You know the time she was hospitalized with that infection, she didn’t even know she was that sick. She almost died. I’m concerned that this could be a repeat.”
Dr. F smiles condescendingly. He doesn’t believe she’s really sick. “Oh, there’s something wrong with her alright. And it’s more than bipolar. She’s bipolar alright but there is something else too. I’m not sure what but it’s more than bipolar.”
He’s not saying he’s concerned about her physical status–he’s saying she’s nutty as a fruit cake. That she’s making it up. His tone is exasperated not concerned. I recognize it because, sadly, he sounds so much like me.
You see, its okay to treat people with mental illness with no respect even if you are in the medical profession. Its okay to roll your eyes, give them lip service, ignore what they tell you, and hurry them through the visit just to get them out of your office. When Jerri sees him in two weeks, that’s exactly how Dr. F. will behave–unless I go with her. Having a relative present somehow makes you more deserving of dignity.
Here’s what Deb, one consumer of mental health services, had to say about the stigma:
“I have endured every medication as well as ECT. I have endured family, “friends”, even health care providers discriminating, belittling, and abandoning me. I am young-ish – the joys and possibilities of life have been robbed by my illness and those “superior” and unempathetic souls who judge against it. I haven’t given up yet; but it’s hard – especially when you feel alone. Life is hard enough for us already – help us to not live in fear of something we didn’t cause or ask for.”
Jerri is sick. She has a brain disorder. We treat other sick people with preference and concern. I can’t imagine Dr. F. rolling his eyes and shooing a cancer patient out of his office. So why is it okay with bipolar? The answer is it’s not. It’s not okay. And it will take every single one of us taking a stand to change it. Mental illness should not be a “safe harbor” for discrimination.
I pledge to follow the Bring Change 2 Mind principles:
For people living with mental illness:
treatment, will help me find and use the resources I need to work toward stability.