2010 Face of Mental Illness, Jennifer, responds to a reader comment on a recent Sudbury Star article about her experiences with mental illness. Read the original article here, the reader comment here and Jennifer's response below.
Maybe Harold A. Maio from Florida is right - that Stigma is a poor word choice attached to mental illness.
Maio responded to a Sudbury Star article about me, and iterated why the word was a poor choice to use. He wrote, " ... I do not associate stigmas, no matter who the authority attempting to persuade me. It is a choice I made following the women's movement, which refuted our pretense of the "stigma" of rape. "
Then he went on, "I am sure Ms Forsythe, trained in psychiatry, and president of the Schizophrenia Society of Canada, is aware of the psychology of the term and those who impose it. She errs to be among them."
What does Stigma mean anyway? Well, let's examine the definition of Stigma: a mark of disgrace or infamy; a stain or reproach, as one's reputation.
Hmmm... now I can agree with Maio's comment, and see that it has a very negative connotation. A connotation that we are trying to erase, right?
The synonyms for Stigma are equally negative and offensive: bar sinister, besmirchment, black mark, blame, blemish, brand, disfigurement, disgrace, dishonour, imputation, lost face, black mark, scar, spot stain......wow eh?
For myself, I can't see living with bipolar disorder as a mark of disgrace or infamy, nor a stain on my reputation. In the story, I had told the journalist, that at times, I consider bipolar disorder to actually be quite helpful.
So, what other word can we use instead of that one? How about Stereotype? Here's the definition of that word: 1. An idea, trait, convention, etc., that has grown stale through fixed usage. 2. A set of inaccurate, simplistic generalizations about a group that allows others to categorize them and treat them accordingly.
And the synonyms for Stereotype include: pigeonhole, institutionalize, convention, formula, mold, pattern.
I really do believe Stereotype is a better word to use... because after all, the stereotypes of mental illness include words like crazy, insane, coo-coo, weird, loony, crackpot, out to lunch, schizo, wacky and so on....
And by the definitions of both words, Stereotype is perhaps more suitable because words and phrases associated with mental illness have grown stale, and are broad sweeping generalizations and tend to pigeonhole people who live with mental illness.
Through the MIAW campaign, it's stereotypical thinking that we're trying to eliminate, through shedding light on mental health issues, as well as showing Canadians through the Faces campaign, that there are success individuals living very productive and happy lives.
When I last wrote, I had joined the gym. I've been going about four to five times per week over the past five weeks. I've been feeling much better with much more energy and have generally been excited about life without any signs of hypo-mania.
But for the last couple of days, I have been depressed. Not Edgar Allen Poe depressed - more like Eeyore depressed.
I know why that happened. I skipped a few workouts last week, and was late to get into my routine this week. I certainly realize how important getting regular exercise is to my body and my mind... and even though - I still missed a few workouts. However, I'm not going to be too hard on myself because I'll get back on schedule and things will smooth out once again.
I was back it this morning - and my workout sure was gruelling!!! I did it though. And I'm very happy I got myself through it. In the beginning of my workout, all that really kept me going was how I was going to feel after - an improved mood which would last throughout the day!
And yes, I do feel much better. I'm feeling somewhere in between Eeyore and Tigger....