The Stigma of Mental Illness Causes Undeserved Shame

February 15, 2010 Amanda_HP

Bipolar Vida blogger, Cristina Fender, talks about living with bipolar disorder and the stigma of mental illness. Read this.

I can't begin to tell you the number of emails we receive every month from people who express shame because they are living with a mental illness or they have a family member with a mental illness. They talk about living in fear that others may find out or how others react to them when they discover the person has bipolar disorder, depression, schizophrenia, is a self-injurer or addict ... and the list goes on.

It all boils down to stigma!

The Merriam-Webster Online Dictionary defines stigma this way: "To characterize or brand as disgraceful." To put it very simply, stigma makes you feel bad about yourself. Standup comedian, Paul Jones, who was diagnosed with bipolar disorder, put it very succinctly during a guest appearance on a chat conference on Living with Bipolar Disorder and the Stigma of Mental Illness:

"No one wants to have a mental illness, do they? I know I did not. I would take cancer, diabetes, and such. If I have those, then I will have people come and visit me with food and stuff. Have a mental illness and you'll be labeled for the rest of your life."

The Heavy Weight of Mental Illness Stigma

Our guest on this week's HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show, Cristina Fender, understands shame, embarrassment, stigma. As a diagnosed bipolar disorder patient, she's been through it all and now blogs for (Bipolar Vida blog, check it out). In her tv show guest post, she discusses the stigma of bipolar disorder and mental illness and why she decided to go public with her illness.

We talked more about stigma with Cristina on the HealthyPlace Mental Health TV Show, as well as what her life is like living with bipolar disorder and the challenge of trying to stay positive during the tough times. If you didn't make the live show, you can watch the video on bipolar stigma here.

Share Your Thoughts or Experiences About the Stigma of Mental Illness

We invite you to share your experience with the stigma of mental illness (whether you live with one or are a family member/loved one). How has it made you feel? How do you react to it? Please leave your comments below.

APA Reference
Amanda_HP (2010, February 15). The Stigma of Mental Illness Causes Undeserved Shame, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, December 8 from

Author: Amanda_HP

Robert Shea
February, 27 2010 at 7:41 am

I tried to explain to a friend that mental illness does not exist except as a curse, and therefore to try to reduce the "stigma" of it would be as foolish and ridiculous as trying to reduce the "blessings" of holy water.

Sandra Sweeney
February, 18 2010 at 12:13 am

Hi. I'd like to share some of my experiences regarding the stigma of bipolar disorder.
1. I had my own stigma! Mental illness happens to other people, not to me! I was
very embarrassed about the diagnosis, disappointed with myself (why had I not
been able to control it somehow?), and guarded with other people. I also found
that it took me quite a few years to fully understand and accept that I really did
have bipolar disorder. It took even longer for me to realize just how much it
affects those around me.
2. When I finally got up the courage to tell some trusted people at work about my
bipolar disorder, I initially received support. At their urging for more information,
I explained what triggers were and what, in particular, were triggers for me. I
think they completely forgot about that several times last year; despite having told
them what I would need from them when a trigger loomed, nothing was done to
eliminate those triggers and the results were difficult to handle. I was also called
to task for my inability to falling apart in those situations. I strongly believe that
had the situation been handled differently, the results would have been far
better for everyone involved. I learned that I cannot rely on others to help, that I
had to do the preventive management myself.
3. Sometimes, especially during the early years after my diagnosis, I felt like I wasn't
achieving my full potential. I wanted to get my master's degree, but the first
class I took was quite stressful and I wasn't sure I could continue. I did very well
in the class but at one point, I felt absolutely overwhelmed with a paper that I
needed to write! I finally admitted to the professor that I had bipolar disorder and
that I just needed another few days to complete the assignment. Fortunately, the
professor taught classes for special education majors and she had no problem
with that. However, the turmoil and stress associated with that first class were
difficult to handle and I truly wasn't sure if I could handle the course load for
my master's degree.
4. I came very close to losing my job last year because of the effects my bipolar
disorder had on my colleagues. I finally found a much better psychiatrist who
said I had Bipolar Type I, not Type II, and that I had no medication prescribed
specifically for Bipolar Disorder - my meds were treating depression and anxiety.
(I know now that meds for depression can worsen symptoms; I was irritable.)
Depakote was added to two additional BP meds and another was eliminated. I
feel like me again! What an incredible difference! I really owe this turn-around to
my new psychiatrist. My initial visit lasted over an hour, and was incredibly
thorough! I felt that she understood me far better than any previous psychiatrist.
The other thing that I did to help eliminate the effects of my bipolar on my
colleagues was to see a psychologist to receive Cognitive Behavior Therapy. He
and I addressed the issues that were so troubling at work and I learned how to
handle them differently. I received therapy for about six months. I know that if
I feel I need to resume seeing him, I can.
5. I do several things to make sure my symptoms are stable. First, I make sure to
take my medications every day! That is the most important thing. Second, I
maintain a consistent bedtime, going to bed at the same time each night and
getting up at the same time each morning. Third, I eat healthy foods. Fourth, I
have learned as much as I can about bipolar disorder. This website, Julie Fast's
website and books, additional books from the library, BP magazine, and supportive
websites where I've been able to get specific answers about questions I've had
have all helped me learn about my disorder. I would like to add exercise to this
list, but I'm not there yet!
Thank you for letting me share!

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