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.

That’s what BringChange2Mind is all about. I encourage you to check it out and take the pledge:

I pledge to follow the Bring Change 2 Mind principles:

For people living with mental illness:

  • I am living with a mental illness that is treatable and manageable.
  • I am a valuable and valued person and I deserve to be treated with respect.
  • I am responsible for the decisions and choices I make in my life.
  • Educating myself about the symptoms of my illness, and any side effects I may have from
    treatment, will help me find and use the resources I need to work toward stability.
  • Communicating about my experiences with others will help them support me in difficult times and keep me “on track.”
  • If I am feeling suicidal, it is critical that I reach out for help, for in the face of real pain and suffering, it is others who can help me with a commitment to live.
  • I can reduce stigma in myself and in others by being open about living with mental illness, naming it out loud, and raising people’s awareness.
  • For everyone:

  • It is likely that someone I know is living with a mental illness and that fear of stigma may be preventing them from accepting their illness and seeking help.
  • I can make a difference by learning about mental health issues and the devastating effects of stigma.
  • If someone I know exhibits sudden changes in behavior, I will pay attention and reach out to them.
  • If someone I know is experiencing suicidal thoughts, I will take it seriously and make every effort to ensure they get help.
  • I will not perpetuate or tolerate stigma of any kind and will commit myself to changing the way society views people living with mental illness.
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    10 Comments on “BringChange2Mind”

    1. […] BringChange2Mind ( […]

    2. waywardweed says:

      When I saw “BringChange2Mind” this weekend during primetime on Fox, I was very surprised. Last week I met someone who specializes in fund raising for clubhouses for people with mental illnesses. She said it costs $$$ to show the PSA, which is why you don’t see it too often. Anyway, it was a nice surprise. And BTW, you are an wonderful sister and advocate for people with mental ilnesses.

      • What a nice thing to say! Thanks, Waywardweed. I really loved the PSA. I wonder why it costs so much to run? Also noticed you can donate at the Web site but I’m not sure how they are using the donations.

        • Denise says:

          Hey Terri, I’m mostly doing ok. My pdoc is having me adjust a couple of my medications so time will tell how that will work out. I’m in a 6 week class at one of the local hospitals on managing chronic illness; it’s pretty basic but a good review. And tomorrow I’m starting another class [12 weeks at another local hospital] that will cover nutrition, exercise and emotional well-being, being team taught by a dietician, social worker, and an exercise person. Again, it’ll probably be mostly review but I need to get my focus back onto getting healthy again; I’m hoping that having a bit of structure will help…

        • Denise – glad to hear you are doing well and are focused on getting healthy. It’s so easy to get off track. I’m also trying to stay focused on exercise and eating healthy but keep falling off the wagon, so to speak 😉

    3. Susan says:

      You know, what we need to do is pray to be able to see EVERYONE, including ourselves, as close as is humanly possible to the way God sees us. Yes, people with mental illness deal with a LOT. It is sad. To already have a heavy burden and to be discriminated against on top of that, is . . . too much. What I find is, most people have about the ability to deal with anything “slightly south of normal” that a self-absorbed middle-schooler does. While it is a totally different scenario – I distinctly remember being on a plane from RDU to Chicago, with tears running down my cheeks the entire flight – heartbroken – not sobbing, but noticeably crying — and no one said a word to me. No one offered a tissue, said “Is there anything I can do?”, or even said, “I’m sorry you are having a hard time.” Mostly they just looked away – pretended everything was “normal.” Was I discriminated against? No. But, I can remember thinking, “My sorrow makes me different right now. And that makes them uncomfortable.” People just can’t handle ANYTHING that seems out of kilter. It upsets their little worlds. Oh what I would have done to have one person say, “I’m sorry. Here’s a tissue.” Oh what someone with a mental illness would give to have one person say something “normal” to them, I guess. Change starts with each one of us.

      • What a different world this would be if we just treated each other with mutual respect. Your story rings a particular bell with me this week as I noticed a comment on another person’s blog where the commentor was clearly going down a suicide path. The comment was several weeks old and no one had responded to her at all. I couldn’t just ignore it so I reached out to her – she reiterated her plan to commit suicide and even gave a date. She had lost all hope and is completely without support. I contacted a patient advocacy group in her country, connected the two, and they are talking. I hope my willingness to get involved makes a difference in her life. I’m continuing to pray for her.

      • Sergio says:

        This conversation is more evecinde that the professionals just don’t know enough about the developing brain. If you chart all the various diagnoses with the symptoms for each, the overlap is over whelming. It seems to be a guessing game. Some might be clear cut diagnoses but I have the impression that it’s seldom that clear cut. Over the past 5 years we tried it all, doctors, medications, diets, and new treatment ideas. I was most surprised by the lack of knowledge. I truly thought some one would fix my son’s defiance and aggression and we would move on. I read through this blog and took notes of helpful suggestions I have yet tried. This is a full time job. I quit my job so I could put my energy toward helping my son and thus help my family. It takes so much time, money, and energy. I was almost always disappointed after working with the professionals. The psychiatrist, pediatricians, therapist, teachers, schools, etc. could not help but I keep reaching out and talking and trying new things. Everyone is operating so independently. The professionals are not sharing information learned. I would love to create an agency that would start collecting data across all special needs spectrum, the conditions, the treatments, the results. I’ve been told there is no money in it. The only things that produced some long term positive results for us were the Nurtured Heart Approach to discipline, the gluten and artificial free diet, and EmPower Plus supplements from The EmPower Plus produced the biggest change but every child will be different. One of our Denver doctors described it in a way I finally understood why this was so complex: “Your child could have ADHD and on top of that allergies and sensitivities, and on top of that can’t metabolize and absorb vital nutrients for the brain well, and on top of that a build up of bad bacteria in his system, and on top of that his neurons may not fire properly. We have to peel away all the layers one by one in order to determine which variables are affecting his behavior.” I understood this but how many people have the time, money and determination to peel back all the layers. We have been fortunate so far but I hope I don’t put us in the poor house with my determination to help my son. I see tremendous potential for his future but I have to keep him pointed in the right direction. You have to manage EVERYTHING in a child like this; a strict routine so nothing upsets his system, strict diet, watching all his interactions with peers and intercepting as soon as you see any of the signs, hyper managing his tv and other screen time, trying to find an activity they can feel passionate about, never losing control yourself because that will surely snowball and then we’re in big trouble, ignoring the looks of others who think you are letting your child get away with everything, staying in constant communication with school, being patient with well intentioned family and friends who think you just need better parenting skills. Nothing is easy about this situation which is why this dialog we are having is so important. I hope the parents and kids keep reaching out. Don’t ever give up. You are not alone.

    4. Denise says:

      BringChange2Mind has a print ad in bp magazine that is similar to the one you saw, Terri [bp magazine is a quarterly magazine about bipolar–for people with bp as well as others]. Stigma definitely is a big deal, which needs to be changed. I sometimes feel uncomfortable talking about it because of the stigma that I face, even within my family. This needs to change!

      • Cool. Thanks for sharing Denise. The campaign has been around for a couple of years but I’d never seen the TV ad until this week. I hear you about the stigma and I’m sorry you experience it. How are you doing by the way? Is the bipolar under control? Hope so – I was reading Jessy’s blog earlier today and she seems to have found a medication regimen that works for her. Wish we could find that for Jerri, although, her not taking the medication consistently may be more of an issue than whether or not the medication is effective. Hard to say.

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