The Social Stigma Of Mental Illness

Before my Complex PTSD and Trauma was triggered watching Leigh Sales interview Cardinal George Pell on the 7.30 Report on the Royal Commission in 2012 where he said “the Catholic Church wasn’t the only cab off the rank with child abuse !”, I had a fulfilled life, was happy working in our own business with four happy children, two at University, one doing the HSC, one in the first year of high school and in a very happy marriage. Life was good and with those words, my world came crumbling down and I descended into oblivion. My life as I knew it was snatched from me and it is only the love and strength of my marriage that has remained. Friends bar one have not coped. They have gradually fallen by the wayside one by one. It’s tragic, sad and a sad indictment on the understanding of mental illness in our society. The SANE Organisation conducted a surveyed which concluded “Having a mental illness can make it harder to maintain relationships for a variety of reasons. Stigma and misunderstanding in the community about mental illness can mean people are reluctant to engage with those affected. The minute someone knows you have a mental illness, you are treated differently”. SANE

It hurts really badly that friends you have supported through thick and thin cannot support you. Cannot visit you in the clinic, visit you at home. Accept that yes, you have tried to commit suicide but it does not mean you do not love your family any less. Why can they not educate themselves about your illness like you did about their breast cancer? Why can they not drive you to a psychiatrist appointment like you drove them to a chemotherapy appointment? Cannot do coffee this week? Suddenly it has been five weeks. Then you realise you have not seen them for five months. Dinner party invitations reduce and are then not non-existent. The phone stops ringing. Has stopped. Except for one loyal beautiful friend who has not given us up and stays in touch all the time and we have wonderful normal time with her and is invaluable to our family. We need the support but we also need the normalcy of her life and want to know what is happening for her, her husband and children. We cherish that. So if you have a friend going through mental illness involve her/him in your life. It is the best support you can give. Do not be afraid of their illness. It is not contagious !!!

People with mental health problems can experience social isolation affecting all types of relationships, whether with friends or family. Social isolation can be a result of the symptoms of many mental health problems as well as a consequence of the associated stigma, disadvantage and social exclusion that people with mental illness can face. The problem may affect people who are living with others, where it may not be apparent, as well as people who are living alone.

According to the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing, almost one-third of Australians who have psychotic disorders are living alone and 39% of these people have no ‘best friend’ with whom they can share thoughts and feelings. Although a proportion of people with mental illness withdraw from others as a way of managing symptoms such as paranoia, persistent auditory hallucinations or feelings of depression, poor energy and low self-worth, it is important to recognise that the majority desire more connections with others. In the above survey, 45% of participants felt they needed ‘good friends’.

I would love to hear from you so please leave a comment. All feedback is much appreciated. Thank you. Erin

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