Facing Stigma From Within the Mental Health Community
Stigma from within the mental health community is the last place I expected to come across stigma for mental illnesses. Last Wednesday, I went to a mental health event that was about mental illness in general, as opposed to focused on one kind or another. I was at the mental health fair, called MindFest, with the Canadian BFRB Support Network (CBSN), Canada’s only non-profit geared towards raising awareness and providing resources for people with body-focused repetitive behaviors (BFRBs). Since BFRBs are a lesser-known group of disorders, I expected questions, but I didn’t expect stigma from within the mental health community -- the people in attendance.
MindFest was a one-day informational event held at the University of Toronto campus. There were speakers and various organizations that also had set up booths to provide information. While I suppose anyone could have just walked through if they felt like it, it more or less felt like a gathering of people with one common interest — mental health.
Mental Health Stigma From Within the Mental Health Community Surprised Me
The more I think about it now, the more I think this is, perhaps, a common tale. For instance, I know many people that have struggled with stigmatizing doctors or mental health practitioners, so why would it be any different at an event like this?
I still find it surprising because I would expect to be met with patience as people heard us out and tried to understand. Honestly, the majority of our day was like that, which was nice, but we all know how those small instances have a knack for sticking out. Two instances of stigma that we faced at the CBSN booth definitely stick out. One man condescendingly asked us questions as if we were pseudoscientists making things up, another told us to stay off drugs (without even bothering to ask if BFRB disorders have anything to do with drug use, which they don't). These are the responses I expect to hear from people outside of the realm of interest in mental health, so having it come from within took me aback.
Why Stigma from Within the Mental Health Community Is a Problem
What this experience proved to me is that one, we need to continue to do what we do, and two, we may need to broaden our scope of where we think stigma comes from. Or at least I do.
If in this day and age, people within the realm of mental health community are so quick to jump to stigmatized conclusions when presented with new information, that’s a big problem. These are the people that are supposed to be standing with us, but instead, they’re just falling into the same traps that everyone else does. While we are each human, I expect more from these people because I feel like they would be better able to empathize with people living with mental illness.
So what can we do about situations like this? We can keep talking and we can keep educating using a number of ways to reduce mental health stigma. Like I said, the experience proved to me that we need to continue to combat mental health stigma, and in some cases, we need to start from the inside and go outward. Sometimes that means fighting self-stigma and others it means fighting stigma perpetuated by those who are supposedly on our side. It’s frustrating, but it must be done, so let’s keep on doing what we can to make a difference.
Barton, L. (2017, October 9). Facing Stigma From Within the Mental Health Community, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 9 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/survivingmentalhealthstigma/2017/10/facing-stigma-from-within-the-mental-health-community
Author: Laura A. Barton
Hi Laura, Yes, of course I understand what you meant, and I thank YOU, again, for sharing with everyone your experience, which made me share my own, and hopefully those who read these stories will share theirs here or down the line, as needed, and if they've not themselves been victims of such awful stigma, (I don't wish it on anyone), but do hope it makes those more aware that these aren't isolated, they're becoming more and more the norm, and we've got to keep fighting for ourselves and each other. I'd like to add that I did file a complaint against this individual who said these things to me, to the professional board they belong to, (which they did nothing), as I assumed would happen, but if ee don't try to take that stand and not back down, we will at the very least grow in numbers voicing ourselves, which in turn could possibly make those people who are in charge of the mental health professionals in the field, keep seeing the problem at whatever local level they're under, and hopefully it starts being stopped by those individuals who oversee them. As hard as it was for me to hear someone say very casually that I "didn't matter", it sent me a much larger message which said to me that "YRS, you DO matter", and if I didn't speak up and find out the proper place to call and report this, I personally felt as I was doing myself another disservice if I just let it go, which then I felt guilty if I wouldn't have filed a formal complaint, because my intent was doing my part to try to stop this person from ever saying such horrible things to another person. I knew it took strength to do that, and I feel weak myself a lot, but I also felt more anger and fear for another human being after me ever having to hear something they should never have to feel so badly about.
I'm very sorry for what happened to you, but as someone who's been trying to navigate the best I can to find the best mental health professionals for my own many needs, I hate to say I've also been stigmatized by medical professionals. It's quite possibly the worst thing we can come up against, already trying to do the best we can for ourselves when we've already got walls up, (as I do). I've seen this decline in our health systems for years now, with former Dr's, psychiatrists, counselors, etc., leaving the field for many reasons.
I was lucky to have some of the best professionals, (I felt), who I respected and felt I was much more than just a name on a folder or a number in their system. They proved that to me without ever needing proof. They were helping me through horrible times, and interested in getting to the root of my major depression, severe anxiety, when I realized I first needed help almost 10 years ago. (Add complex ptsd in 2013), and I've been struggling with a lot by myself and for myself.
Those people are gone. Hospitals here in my area in the Midwestern US, are eliminating mental health care professionals completely. Two hospitals near me in recent years both have done away with mental health care. Dr's couldn't practice how they believed they should, and were told that in order to be profitable they were to turn each patient around in 8 minutes. EIGHT MINUTES!!! You can't even take your coat off, sit down and be asked how you are in 8 minutes most times! Mental health is a money loser, I've been told by so many people, and it's a time where we need more, versus less professionals. And good caring professionals have been replaced with those in private sectors or non profits, by people I don't consider intelligent or caring at all, who've told me that "You don't matter", to my face when only trying to stay on scripts that I'd been taking, (the ones I was positive that helped me), vs those that I've also learned didn't.
There is no "Care" in Mental Health as I once believed there was. I've seen it with my own eyes and I've had to fight tooth and nail to find and replace others that I've sworn shouldn't see another human being, let alone someone who may already be more challenged by their illness, emotions, etc. I'm one of those people who've lost everyone in my life because they believe I've chosen depression, etc., over family and friends. I have no emergency contact whatsoever. In my opinion, that's a big strike against me, since they know I'm completely alone. Nobody to follow up or back me up when trying to explain my own individual problems. That may be my own personal experience, but I'm an Intelligent woman and I do know the difference. Ive been to a point where I've begged for help. Real help from who are supposed to be in tune with my records. My records aren't even kept current or up to date. It's an awfully hard thing to take when you've already been told more than once that you don't matter, and that I'm lucky to have a roof over my head, as if I'm not grateful for that. Why would someone belittle and berate someone who's asking and begging for any addtl help? Not even speaking about meds here, but programs or groups to possibly attend that might help? Those are also fewer and much harder to find. It's a total shame that I keep trying to find myself more help, because isolating myself has gotten to be a much bigger and worrisome thing I've been doing far too long now. Once you're made to feel like you're a bother, or don't fit into their particular slot of what they believe a certain patient should be, it's as if the blinders are on and their ears are not hearing anything you say. Stigma within mental health systems is part of the very big problem we're facing today, yet in my own personal experience, nobody I speak with even believes me when I mention it!! Why would I lie about something so important to myself and my own health? I worry for myself and I think I worry even more for those who may not know that this isn't how things should be. I'll never forget the woman who told me I didn't matter. Never. I left her office that day feeling so outraged, yet so defeated at the same time. It makes you not want to keep fighting for yourself when you're treated so badly. I still think back on the excellent care I found with people years ago and for several years I was fortunate to have caring, empathetic people who did very much care for me and my well being. Without having had them I'd be in much worse shape today. This has become an epidemic of outrageous proportions and I don't see a change in site.
Thank you for this article, (story), of your individual experience. I'm grateful to you for sharing it with us and I hope in some way it's very helpful to others who've been treated the same way as we have. We are very much not alone when we share our lives and our stories, I'll always continue to do that, but I want others to know as you do, that this should not be tolerated within supposed mental health faculties. I wish the very best for you and anyone else in these horrible situations.
Thanks for taking the time to share your story, and I'm so sorry to hear that things have deteriorated so badly in your area when it comes to mental health treatment options. You're so right, we need better care and more options, not an assembly line treatment like we're numbers on a page. Eight minutes is an outrageous amount of time to limit doctors to. On the one hand, I'm glad to hear that the respectable doctors in your area have packed up and said no to this kind of atrociousness, but, at the same time, it leaves people with nowhere to turn.
Hopefully, we can someone manage to get the health systems to reconsider mental health care for the people who need it. Stigma definitely plays a part, but there are also much deeper seeded issues at work here.
Keep on fighting the good fight and I wish you the best as well. Thanks for taking the time to read my experience, too.
Somehow, rather, not someone, in the second paragraph, but I think you get what I was saying.