When you learn a friend stigmatizes Mental Heath Issues
As a person with multiple health conditions, several of which are disabling, I have learned not to share some of my #MentalHealth issues and I rarely discuss them even with close friends. Across the years, I have lost friends, been subtly discriminated at work when when any mental health condition was known, and my family has disowned me because I do not fit in to their mold of “being perfect”, which includes no divorce and no mental health issues. Recently I was somewhat surprised by the reaction of a friend in my community of handlers with service dogs (which by definition all individuals have disabilities). I was hurt by her actions and our friendship was irrevocably changed. It was clear that despite the fact she was a person with disabilities, she, too, discriminated against people with mental health issues.
My friend and I are both administrators of a large service dog organization. There are eight administrators and approximately 5,500 members. We provide education, information, and resources to our members about training and regulations regarding service dogs to assist owner trainers. Over the past two years we have become quite close and shared personal information about ourselves, our families, our health and our daily lives. I have shared limited information about my mental health occasionally mentioning my #Anxiety, being depressed, and noting that I am on the spectrum. I have shared more about the tasks my dog does for #Hypoglycemia. My friend has an SD for physical issues.
Recently, I faced a number of stressors in my life. My marriage had issues. My daughter, who lives a great distance away, was relying on me for emotional support and requesting guidance but was continuing to make poor decisions in a situation that continued to endanger her and my grandchildren. I was getting very poor sleep and later found out I had severe #SleepApnea. I was also dealing with blood pressure issues. I was having panic attacks and feeling depressed. I needed something to give.
I spoke to my friend, who is not just a fellow administrator but a #Disability advocate, and mentioned that due to the stressors in my life, some of which I shared, I might take a mental health break for a short while from my administrative duties. Other administrators have done this before for various reasons including mental health. The way it is typically done is that the administrator simply does not participate in administrative duties until he or she is ready to resume. My friend listened saying “um hmm” and “that sounds good”. I never expected her to go behind my back in the way that she did.
I contacted our lead administrator shortly after speaking with my friend and shared with her that I needed a mental health break due to the stressors in my life and noted a couple of them. I also requested that she tell the other administrators for me. She was supportive and agreed. At this point, all was well and things seemed to be going in the direction to relieve some stress so I could concentrate on my life issues and mental health.
I was focusing on my family so I was not checking in my group or the administration and its notes. I had no idea what had happened. The first signal that I got that something was up was the lack of daily communication with my friend. Usually we talked each morning over coffee and several other times a day. I would call and she would have little to say. She did not call me. Conversation stopped. I was sad and upset but was busy so the first couple of days I just let it go.
After a week of silence, she called to request some information I had. I provided it to her. During the course of the conversation, she expressed her frustration with psychiatric service dogs calling them “purse puppies” and “what tasks do they really do, come on”? “I know I should not be this way but most of them are untrained and are there for comfort or just do DPT”. My friend was clearly prejudiced against mental health disabilities and Psychiatric Service Dogs. I felt sick to my stomach. She had only called for information and did not realize what she just revealed to me. It made me wonder what was going on with our group.
When we finished our conversation, I checked the group information. I had been removed as an administrator. I called our lead administrator and she admitted to being swayed by (false) information told to her by my so called friend. She inflated my mental health issues not knowing what they were in an effort to remove me because she is biased. Since my conversations with my friend are by text due to hearing issues, I could back up my claims that I was not in the state my friend described. I was reinstated to my former position by the lead administrator.
Unfortunately, this incident reinforces to me the concept that mental health stigma is not only real but it exists within the disabled community. Until everyone levels the playing field and accepts all people where they are as people, stigma will force people into hiding and will marginalize and penalize those with mental health disabilities.