Why I'm No Longer Silent About My Daughter's Mental Illness
It’s a word that people with mental illness — and those who love them — despise. Stigma keeps people from getting the help they need. Stigma hurts people and it destroys lives. Stigma can make people feel alone.
Now let me tell you a secret. I contributed to that stigma. There was a time I didn’t know much about mental illness — and what I didn’t know scared me. I never saw stories about amazing people living with mental illness. The only story I’d heard about schizophrenia was about a man who killed his parents. My head was filled with images of padded rooms, straight jackets and screaming patients.
Then, my daughter was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. My daughter also has cerebral palsy (CP). At a young age, we taught her all about CP so that she could educate others and advocate for herself. But when it came to her mental illness, I found myself talking in “code” to doctors so she couldn’t understand what I was saying. She started on medication but we called it “brain medicine” and nothing else.
I only told people who I knew would understand, and I only told them face to face so I could judge by their expression if I had made a mistake. In December, my daughter had a psychotic break and was hospitalized after she became so violent that she was no longer safe to be in our home. Not many people knew. It was becoming increasingly difficult to keep our “secret.”
Through all of this I was reading every book I could get my hands on and I got involved with the National Alliance on Mental Illness. As I became more educated, I felt torn between my fear of stigma and my realization that the only way to begin to end it was to educate others. I began to understand how many people feared mental illness just like I did. But I didn’t feel comfortable letting people continue to believe the stigma when it was my daughter they were misinformed about.
I started to educate her about her own illness, and I found that she was more than comfortable sharing it with people. Shortly after her first hospitalization, she was hospitalized again and her diagnosis was changed to schizoaffective disorder. It was almost the exact diagnosis that first started my fear of mental illness.
I finally took the plunge and went what I call “Facebook public.” The outpouring of support was immediate. Since that time my daughter has been hospitalized two more times and has had two residential placements, one of which she is in now. I know that we have been incredibly blessed to have wonderful supportive people in our lives, and those who may not be as supportive have managed to keep quiet! I also know that not all of you are in a position to go public about your illness, or the illness of your loved one. That is OK. I understand the fear, and I will fight for you. You are not alone.
The Mighty is asking the following: Tell us about the first time you reached out to someone about your (or a loved ones) mental illness. Whether it was a friend or a professional, we want to hear about why you opened up, how it went, and why you’re glad (or maybe not glad) you did it. If you’d like to participate, please send a blog post to [email protected] Please include a photo for the piece, a photo of yourself and 1-2 sentence bio. Check out our Submit a Story page for more about our submission guidelines.