“Oh yeah, her… Definitely Bi-polar”. My reaction to how she described her friend shocked even me.
“Jesus!” I said. “How would you like to be sum-totalled like that?”
“What do you mean?” She looked at me amazed.
Now I knew why I had instinctively never told her about my own (Mental Health) diagnosis.
In that moment though, it hit me that unless you’ve had your entirety summed up casually via a MH diagnosis, you have no idea how hurtful and dismissive it can be. Until this I had never called anyone out about it. I surprised myself when I finally did.
Nowadays of course it’s common-place to bandy about MH diagnostic terms casually in everyday speech. For many this is just harmless banter. For many of us though, it’s not. Yet the fear of ‘outing’ ourselves publicly means we will usually be the least vocal about this.
I was given my own MH diagnosis over a decade ago. I’ve learnt over time to be very careful about sharing this. In my experience, there are two distinct responses when people find out.
Either a person will totally ignore this and just continue to see me as simply who I am or they will, from then on, perceive everything I do and say through what they think they know about this MH diagnosis. This can include health professionals.
It’s sad when you know you’re being seen through a ‘veil’. I can always tell when this is the case and I’m sure there are many people reading this (who have been diagnosed) who can too. It is so subtle but it is there. Suddenly all you are saying and doing is being perceived through this veil. Likewise it is always lovely when you know someone is talking to you without this.
Sadly there seems to be a total over-identification by many people generally with highly stereo-typed versions of MH diagnoses.
Maura does this thing so she must be… (MH diagnosis). Ciaran does this thing so he must be… (MH diagnosis).
Yes, maybe someone has been given a MH diagnosis, but it is only part of their story and not their whole story. People may have conditions but surely they are not the conditions?
I do wonder where common-sense went when thinking about all this.
When you choose to sum someone up via a MH diagnosis you dismiss their whole story, their uniqueness and their personal identity.
This conscious rush to judgement is lazy, ignorant and ultimately dangerous.
Once people are given a MH diagnosis, the one most common result of this will be isolation. I know from personal experience that it can be easier just to isolate yourself than to deal with other people’s skewed perception of you due to your MH diagnosis.
Post-diagnosis, it can be scary to think that the world is now full of people who think they suddenly know more about you than you do.
Isolation like this is a known factor that can lead to self-harm and suicidal thoughts. This is a matter that is far from casual.
There really should be more discussion around the implications of giving MH diagnoses in the first place. They may well be given with the best of intentions by the psychiatric establishment but afterwards people seem to be left totally on their own to deal with the consequences of having this diagnosis (for them socially for example or when trying to get a job) as well as with the medication that will always go hand in hand.
One of the most challenging things over time for me and painful to admit, has been deciding whether or not to share this information (re diagnosis) with potential partners. I’ve found it such an incredibly un-sexy thing to share that I have ended up cutting myself off from possible relationships. I’ll never know if these could have developed due to my own self-stigmatising about this. From working with people dealing with mental health issues I know that I am not alone in doing this.
It has taken me a long time to find my voice about these kind of issues and I greatly welcome the platform that www.alustforlife.com provides for new dialogues about mental health. It allows people like me to ‘speak up’ anonymously (if they choose) and I would encourage others to take advantage of this.
I have worked in mental health advocacy and education for a number of years but do so without a public profile. I admire those who do this work publicly.
So… the person I mentioned at the start? I now give them a very wide berth. Thankfully I know many other people who choose not to think like that and will hopefully keep meeting more of them every day.