From the Editor
“I was a victim of mental-health stigma – both societal and self-imposed.”
Lawyer Beth Beattie makes that observation in her essay about her experience with bipolar. Her piece – which was just published by The Globe and Mail – is moving and thoughtful.
Bipolar Express: Beattie writes about her journey
In this Reading, we highlight her essay, and comment further on the importance of people speaking out about their illness.
Illness and Stigma
“All aboard, the Bipolar Express”
The Globe and Mail, 29 August 2017
I was 35 when I was diagnosed with bipolar disorder. The difficulty I had with ‘losing my mind’ wasn’t the fact that I was placed in four-point restraints, shot full of anti-psychotic medication and admitted to a psychiatric hospital. My real distress came from thinking people would find out.
I had a history of depression punctuated by brief periods of elevated moods. During the Christmas holidays nearly 15 years ago, my partner left me, seemingly without warning. I stopped sleeping and abandoned my medication. Over the course of a few days, my mood spiralled upward and I became floridly psychotic. I was convinced that my father was God and my nephew (who incidentally was born on Christmas Day three years earlier) was the Second Coming.
My family took me to Toronto’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. I presented as being agitated, argumentative and threatening. Treatment was forced on me. While traumatizing at the time, I don’t question the care I received. I needed to be brought down from the moon and the stars.
So begins an essay written by Beth Beattie. The piece is highly readable and doesn’t require much of a summary.
She notes that her struggle with illness went beyond symptoms.
I was mortified at the thought of people knowing I had a major mental illness. As a lawyer, I was concerned that if my bosses found out about my illness, I would not be trusted with challenging files. Also, I come from the kind of family that doesn’t easily talk about uncomfortable issues outside of the home.
Over time, Beattie decided to tell people about her experience.
Does she regret the decision to disclose her illness? “Since coming out, it’s been hard to shut me up. I’ve flown out of the mental-illness closet and, in doing so, experienced the greatest freedom of my life. My spirit, long suppressed, is soaring higher than ever.”
I truly believe it can be invaluable for other people who have a mental illness to share their stories so that we can all conquer the negative stereotypes that are too often associated with “going mad.”
A few thoughts:
- This is a great essay.
- Based on my clinical experience, it is invaluable for people with mental illness to share stories. Beattie has done a great service here. But stigma exists, and it should be acknowledged that she has done something pretty gutsy.
- Beattie is a lawyer. I’m looking forward to the day when we can share more stories like this, including stories from physicians.
Reading of the Week. Every week I pick articles and papers from the world of Psychiatry.