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Years After Recovery, I’m Still Judged By The Mental Health Issue I Used To Have

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By Jhilmil Breckenridge

For anyone with a mental illness “label”, they know only too well that they are judged with that label forever. Whether they are a functioning individual or not isn’t considered. If she is singing one day, she must be manic. If he is quiet sometimes, oh he must be in depression. It’s as if people are not allowed to have normal moods anymore, and worse is how the stigma attached to mental health diagnoses affects you outside, at work, in relationships, how society views you. I have a friend, who never discloses at work that she has an issue or takes medication for the fear of being judged. Or another who hides his illness from his children. All of these things are done precisely because of the constant judging, the stigma and discrimination that surround anyone with a mental illness label.

mental health illness stigma discrimination
For representation only. Image source: Trauma and Dissociation/Flickr

In simple terms, mental health issues can be caused by life stresses, psychosocial issues, sometimes it may be genetic and some people are more predisposed to being affected. It’s often a temporary condition and recovery is very, very possible in many cases, especially if the person affected wishes to take an active part in his or her healing. In my case, I read extensively on the subject and embarked voluntarily upon a CBT (cognitive behavioural therapy) model of help, also the fact that I had been incorrectly labeled did not help! In other cases, it may be a lifelong management of a condition and there are several ways of dealing with it. But even years after recovery, now that I am a fully functioning and productive person, I am continually judged with the label I had years ago, “oh she is bipolar,” as though that is the only thing that defines me.

Discrimination at the workplace is also widespread. With many employers unwilling to take on people with mental health issues, this is one of the largest groups of any disability that is unemployed. Often people have no option but to resort to hiding the fact that they have any issue just to get work. In many cases, it is discrimination that prevents people from getting help. “I’m not crazy,” they say, when they think that perhaps they should go see a therapist or get help. And it’s precisely the conditioning we have all had growing up, from our parents or society around, “oh, you know, that person is crazy” and talking about what they did in hushed whispers. If we grow up thinking that to have any mental health issue is being crazy and that is the last thing we want, obviously it is hidden for as long as possible. Why can’t it be treated like a medical condition, which is what it is, and be casual? “Oh, I have diabetes, so no sugar, please,” is treated much differently to “I have anxiety disorder.”

In a survey of over 1700 adults in the UK, Crisp et al. (2000) found that: (1) the most commonly held belief was that people with mental health problems were dangerous – especially those with schizophrenia, alcoholism and drug dependence, (2) people believed that some mental health problems such as eating disorders and substance abuse were self-inflicted, and (3) respondents believed that people with mental health problems were generally hard to talk to . People held these beliefs regardless of their background, education or position in society and when questioned about whether they would employ people with mental health problems, the answer was less likely.
Stigmatization comes in many forms, distrust, avoidance, pity, gossip, etc. Stigma is also prevalent in the classroom where teachers expect sufferers to underperform and this may not be the case!

A lot of the common beliefs about ‘mad’ people stem from media. Cinema often portrays schizophrenics in stereotypical and violent roles, which reinforces what people generally believe about people with mental illness. These go a long way in continuing to make people behave in a discriminatory way towards anyone affected.

Worse than the external stigma and discrimination around mental health is the internal stigma. It’s a condition that often affects people’s self esteem and their own beliefs of recovery are linked to the self stigmatization. If they believe they can’t recover, all the medication and therapy in the worlds will not help. There is often increased social isolation, and this is often linked to a self belief that they will not be liked.

In the UK, there has been a huge campaign to end stigma. A similar approach will be needed in India, one of the worst countries in the world when it comes to how it deals with those affected with mental health conditions.

Mental health issues originate in the mind. So does stigma and discrimination. Let’s work hand in hand to eradicate what we can to make recovery faster and make our society more inclusive.

Note: In this article, I speak about mental health illness as that is how the term is commonly understood and referred to. But I am of the firm belief that a lot of these labels are simply wrong, over-diagnosed and cause more problems than they solve. People are people, and just as there are different colours, so do people vary… we cannot all be the same, react the same, and have the same moods. And to simply label someone without any tool for looking into their brain seems wrong. Until there are better diagnostic tools, I think the world needs more love and tolerance!

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  1. Paul

    There are some very good points in this article. Yes, somebody could be assumed to be manic just because they are feeling happy. I see and hear this sort of thing a lot. Being labelled things such as ‘manic’ and ‘crazy’ is not fair. People can and do recover, but regardless of this, a person with a mental illness should not be labelled. The person is a person, not a label such as a schizophrenic. You are welcome to visit my website at http://www.beyondmylabel.net if you would like to read more stuff about stigmatization etc. Thank you

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An ambassador and trained facilitator under Eco Femme (a social enterprise working towards menstrual health in south India), Sanjina is also an active member of the MHM Collective- India and Menstrual Health Alliance- India. She has conducted Menstrual Health sessions in multiple government schools adopted by Rotary District 3240 as part of their WinS project in rural Bengal. She has also delivered training of trainers on SRHR, gender, sexuality and Menstruation for Tomorrow’s Foundation, Vikramshila Education Resource Society, Nirdhan trust and Micro Finance, Tollygunj Women In Need, Paint It Red in Kolkata.

Now as an MH Fellow with YKA, she’s expanding her impressive scope of work further by launching a campaign to facilitate the process of ensuring better menstrual health and SRH services for women residing in correctional homes in West Bengal. The campaign will entail an independent study to take stalk of the present conditions of MHM in correctional homes across the state and use its findings to build public support and political will to take the necessary action.

Saurabh has been associated with YKA as a user and has consistently been writing on the issue MHM and its intersectionality with other issues in the society. Now as an MHM Fellow with YKA, he’s launched the Right to Period campaign, which aims to ensure proper execution of MHM guidelines in Delhi’s schools.

The long-term aim of the campaign is to develop an open culture where menstruation is not treated as a taboo. The campaign also seeks to hold the schools accountable for their responsibilities as an important component in the implementation of MHM policies by making adequate sanitation infrastructure and knowledge of MHM available in school premises.

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Harshita is a psychologist and works to support people with mental health issues, particularly adolescents who are survivors of violence. Associated with the Azadi Foundation in UP, Harshita became an MHM Fellow with YKA, with the aim of promoting better menstrual health.

Her campaign #MeriMarzi aims to promote menstrual health and wellness, hygiene and facilities for female sex workers in UP. She says, “Knowledge about natural body processes is a very basic human right. And for individuals whose occupation is providing sexual services, it becomes even more important.”

Meri Marzi aims to ensure sensitised, non-discriminatory health workers for the needs of female sex workers in the Suraksha Clinics under the UPSACS (Uttar Pradesh State AIDS Control Society) program by creating more dialogues and garnering public support for the cause of sex workers’ menstrual rights. The campaign will also ensure interventions with sex workers to clear misconceptions around overall hygiene management to ensure that results flow both ways.

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MH Fellow Sabna comes with significant experience working with a range of development issues. A co-founder of Project Sakhi Saheli, which aims to combat period poverty and break menstrual taboos, Sabna has, in the past, worked on the issue of menstruation in urban slums of Delhi with women and adolescent girls. She and her team also released MenstraBook, with menstrastories and organised Menstra Tlk in the Delhi School of Social Work to create more conversations on menstruation.

With YKA MHM Fellow Vineet, Sabna launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society. As a start, the campaign aims to begin conversations on menstrual health with five hundred adolescents and youth in Delhi through offline platforms, and through this community mobilise support to create Period Friendly Institutions out of educational institutes in the city.

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A student from Delhi School of Social work, Vineet is a part of Project Sakhi Saheli, an initiative by the students of Delhi school of Social Work to create awareness on Menstrual Health and combat Period Poverty. Along with MHM Action Fellow Sabna, Vineet launched Menstratalk, a campaign that aims to put an end to period poverty and smash menstrual taboos in society.

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A psychologist and co-founder of a mental health NGO called Customize Cognition, Ritika forayed into the space of menstrual health and hygiene, sexual and reproductive healthcare and rights and gender equality as an MHM Fellow with YKA. She says, “The experience of working on MHM/SRHR and gender equality has been an enriching and eye-opening experience. I have learned what’s beneath the surface of the issue, be it awareness, lack of resources or disregard for trans men, who also menstruate.”

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A Computer Science engineer by education, Nitisha started her career in the corporate sector, before realising she wanted to work in the development and social justice space. Since then, she has worked with Teach For India and Care India and is from the founding batch of Indian School of Development Management (ISDM), a one of its kind organisation creating leaders for the development sector through its experiential learning post graduate program.

As a Youth Ki Awaaz Menstrual Health Fellow, Nitisha has started Let’s Talk Period, a campaign to mobilise young people to switch to sustainable period products. She says, “80 lakh women in Delhi use non-biodegradable sanitary products, generate 3000 tonnes of menstrual waste, that takes 500-800 years to decompose; which in turn contributes to the health issues of all menstruators, increased burden of waste management on the city and harmful living environment for all citizens.

Let’s Talk Period aims to change this by

Find out more about her campaign here.

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A former Assistant Secretary with the Ministry of Women and Child Development in West Bengal for three months, Lakshmi Bhavya has been championing the cause of menstrual hygiene in her district. By associating herself with the Lalana Campaign, a holistic menstrual hygiene awareness campaign which is conducted by the Anahat NGO, Lakshmi has been slowly breaking taboos when it comes to periods and menstrual hygiene.

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