[Nfbc-info] Stigma of mental illness still exists, ,

Peacefulwoman89 at cox.net Peacefulwoman89 at cox.net
Sat Jun 2 10:38:26 UTC 2018

Judy and all others, 

I wanted to respond to this post last week. However, I was not available. In my post I will use what is termed, "recovery language" when discussing  what others have referred to as "mental illness". The Recovery Model focuses on recovery and wellness, not illness and diagnosis. Therefore, you will hear me say, "mental health", and not, "mental illness".  

To begin with, we know that some blind individuals have other disabilities. In this instance I am referring   to someone who is blind and also has a mental health disability. Furthermore, we know it is possible for someone with a mental health disability to become blind. Either way, the two disabilities intersect. It is my hope that after you finish reading my post you will agree that it is necessary for our affiliate to openly recognize and express a willingness to help educate and advocate for blind clients and employees within the California mental health community.

I will provide some personal illustrations to show the importance  of the NFBC beginning a dialog involving mental health.
 Through-out my peer-to-peer training in the mental health field I encountered barriers to training materials. For example, the Mental Health First Aid workbook is only available in standard print.  Furthermore, mental health Employment Specialists were unable to provide digitally accessible in-take materials, and their supervisor feared for my safety. Needless to say, I didn't receive services. The California affiliate of the NFB has the aptitude to change attitudes and increase access to resources and employment services within the mental health community.  

The intersection of disabilities can be positive. My blindness and my mental health challenge have proven to be an asset. A few years ago I was invited to provide an in-service  to  a team of mental health providers. During that in-service, I utilized my NFB leadership skills as an educator and advocate. Also, I relied on my training in Motivational Interviewing and training as a facilitator. Moreover, I self-identified as successfully living with a mental health challenge. I did a lot of things right because a year later I was hired by the company where I facilitated the in-service. Lol! While I worked in mental health I made minor in-roads for "my people", (blind individuals living with a mental health challenge). My former employer's classroom materials were digitally formatted.  

Conversely, if this affiliate dismisses this segment of the California blind community then we are knowingly contributing to the double stigmatization; reduced access to specialized training and resources, and customized mental health employment services. Here's what I mean.    During my four years in the local mental health community I often felt like a lone sojourner  . At one point a Behavioral Health Services contractor questioned Mary Willows about my authenticity. Mary referred the individual back to me. Lol. Additionally, I was excluded from  mental health employment services because, in part, the director feared for my safety.  Later, I attended a mandatory suicide prevention training. None of the materials were made accessible. I was pretty much told to sit and listen. Needless to say, I was depleted after trying to work with individuals and organizations without the benefit of support.     

I will wrap up my post with a few more comments. Historically, the NFB has done a stellar job at addressing the mechanics of blindness: learn to use the long white cane and learn to read braille, and have a positive attitude toward blindness. More recently, within the Human Services Division, there's been conversations about addressing the emotional side of blindness, including the sudden or gradual loss of vision and interpersonal relationships which are effected by changes associated with the loss of vision. It is imperative that we as individuals and we as the National Federation of the Blind of California, begin to see the many intersections of blindness which includes less visible disabilities such as mental health disabilities.  Finally, just like blindness, a mental health disability is also a characteristic and not a character flaw. 

In wellness, 

Lisa Irving 

-----Original Message-----
From: NFBC-Info <nfbc-info-bounces at nfbnet.org> On Behalf Of Judiwlewis--- via NFBC-Info
Sent: Monday, May 28, 2018 12:32 PM
To: NFB of California List <nfbc-info at nfbnet.org>
Cc: judiwlewis at charter.net
Subject: Re: [Nfbc-info] Stigma of mental illness still exists, ,

Thank you for this article.

Judi Lewis

> On May 28, 2018, at 11:57 AM, nancy Lynn via NFBC-Info <nfbc-info at nfbnet.org> wrote:
> You might wonder what this has to do with blindness. I’m sure we have people among us for whom this is relevant.
> Stigma of mental illness still exists, and it costs lives. Thirteen years ago, I wrote an obituary for my older sister, who at age 70 committed suicide. It was a long article, for I somehow had to make some sense of the bright, funny woman becoming obsessed with taking her own life. It was the fourth time that year she had attempted to end her life, to escape the shame she felt about her mental illness, to leave the swirling mania that left her exhausted and in fear that people would know what she had done and where she had been during the hospitalizations. More than an attempt to accept what had seemed inevitable for more than 40 years, despite medication, therapy, hospitalizations and a supportive family, that article sought to do what we are still trying to do: Make people aware of the damage that the stigma of mental illness does to those suffering from a chronic mental illness or situational depression. As is so often the case, my sister's bipolar illness manifested during adolescence. To my parents' credit, they did what few parents did in the late 1940s; they sought psychiatric help for their daughter. She had productive adolescent years: developed close friendships, won a scholarship to a good college and then a fellowship to study for a master's degree. She was the only teenager in the history of the Charlotte Opera Society to be a paid member of the company. She was pretty, smart and funny. And she was suffering from a mental illness that went undiagnosed until the mid-1970s. It was only in retrospect that we knew she had suffered from bipolar disorder those many years ago and that it had not been properly diagnosed and treated. She was many things: a talented vocalist, scholar, gardener, counselor and good friend. She was also a woman whose bipolar illness she tried to hide while being terrified people would guess the truth. She was courageous in her effort to function fully in a world that does not understand how to deal with mental illness within the context of normal social interactions. Finally, she could no longer sustain the tension of presenting to the world a face of normalcy while fighting the illness that sucked out enormous energy and spawned the excesses of mania only to resolve itself in obsession with suicide. We talked often of the obsession, and I was her partner in trying to find the right therapist, medications and structure that could manage the illness and banish the obsession, a process that exhausted us both over the years. The question we must all ask is why we make people afraid to acknowledge their depression, anxiety, chronic mental illness. We do not require that people hide their cancer, though there was a time when it, too, was considered an illness not to be discussed, as though the devil himself had planted it. The fear of exposure exacerbates the anxiety of dealing with mental illness, and in many instances results in isolation or suicide. What if someone could say without fear of stigma, I have bipolar disorder just as he could say I have diabetes? That is the point we must reach if we are to be truly supportive of people. I am not certain things have changed very much in the ensuing years; we talk about mental illness openly and quote statistics that acknowledge the number of people it directly affects and the increase in the number of people suffering from anxiety and depression and the increase in drug abuse and suicide, but are we asking the right questions? What is real awareness? It must go beyond recognition of the problem to acknowledge the conditions we are creating in our own communities that contribute to that increase in mental illness and suicide, of drug abuse we discuss. Statistics tell us only that we have a problem. How is our individual and collective behavior impacting the increase in mental illness? How do we learn how to stay mentally healthy ourselves and help others stay mentally healthy? It is not enough to be aware; we must be involved and create personal relationships, institutional relationships that actively support mental health. This month that is coming to a close is Mental Health Awareness Month; the Talbot County Council issued a proclamation acknowledging the importance of removing the stigma of mental illness and the importance of providing adequate education and treatment of mental illness. As the president of the board of directors of the Mental Health Association of the Eastern Shore, I was grateful for their action, and I urge more training of parents, teachers, clergy, employers and others in how to recognize the signs of mental health problems and how to respond to them. We must also have the courage to realize that sometimes there is nothing we can do to change another person's journey. We must acknowledge that sometimes we have to come to terms, as I did, with the fact that the only peace my much loved sister would ever find was in God's love. But if we are more accepting of people whose perceptions are different, whose brains are wired a different way, there will be less isolation, fewer escapes into drugs or death. Carolyn Ewing is president of the Board of Directors of the Mental Health Association of the Eastern Shore. 
> _______________________________________________
> NFBC-Info mailing list
> NFBC-Info at nfbnet.org
> http://nfbnet.org/mailman/listinfo/nfbc-info_nfbnet.org
> To unsubscribe, change your list options or get your account info for NFBC-Info:
> http://nfbnet.org/mailman/options/nfbc-info_nfbnet.org/judiwlewis%40charter.net
NFBC-Info mailing list
NFBC-Info at nfbnet.org
To unsubscribe, change your list options or get your account info for NFBC-Info:

More information about the NFBC-Info mailing list