World Mental Health Day is celebrated on the 10th of October of every year to help raise mental health awareness, to break the growing stigma, and to express our support for the people living with any mental illness.
My name is J. I’m a 21-year-old woman. I have Schizophrenia and my life with it shouldn’t have to be a secret.
In recent years, the importance of providing better mental health advocacy, treatment options and services for the people with mental illness has been encouraged more than before. However, those of us living with Schizophrenia and other serious mental health conditions are being left behind because of the strong stigma that comes with it. Researches have said that stigma is a form of social injustice that delays treatment attainment, promotes social isolation, stress and even puts individuals with Schizophrenia at a higher risk for a more severe illness course.
At the age of 15, a few months prior to my first psychotic episode, there was a sudden decline in my overall daily functioning. It was a shock to my friends and family that I began losing weight at a tremendous rate, showed no interest in school & daily activities, isolated myself from everyone and appeared tired all the time because I was once known for being ‘the life of the party,’ ‘the social butterfly,’ and ‘the people person.’
As time passed by, there was this deeply isolating feeling of a great growing distance between myself and everyone and everything around me. I began hearing mean voices in my head. There were visions of people staring at me from afar and I thought everyone hated me and wished I was dead. Dealing with the symptoms is hard enough for me now as an adult, but as a child it was all really frightening and it felt like I was alone it.
My deteriorating situation began worrying my family so I was then brought to see a psychiatrist. Getting help was not easy, nor was the process of getting a diagnosis because on the one hand, there was this frustration of not knowing how to explain what I was feeling or what was going on in my head. On the other, the constant distracting hallucinations were making it hard for me to pay attention to what’s real. After a very long process of getting evaluated, I was diagnosed with Schizophrenia and began getting treated for it with medications and frequent therapy. The symptoms persisting despite being in treatment meant putting my studies on hold and proceeding with finding other treatment options.
Considering the psychotic state of my mind, I was involuntarily admitted to a psychiatric unit of a hospital for 7 days as an inpatient for the first time. My second involuntary admission was for 14 days only a week after the first. I was told to take my medications and rest until I felt better to be out but the sight of how the ward looked and the way the patients were being treated were of no help for me to feel better. The weeks that I spent in there locked away from the outside world and my family when I needed them the most has kept me traumatized until today.
Just as I was thinking that it was over, after my discharge I was forcefully held and brought into a van by a group of nurses that drove me to a psychiatric rehabilitation centre and got me admitted against my will, yet again. This time, I was getting inpatient treatment away from home for almost 6 months. Though, we were living in a home-based treatment centre that provided us with facilities & daily activities that the hospital did not, the way most of us in there were treated as patients, were unkind and even cruel at times. Making us feel like we’re incompetent by stealing our voice, taking control over our lives, and treating us with least to no respect for our dignity as human beings just because we have a mental illness will only further reduce opportunities for us to build a quality life with it.
From being the youngest patient in a facility that treated patients like prisoners doing their time, to disregarding our needs rather than requests to speak with our family by calling us manipulators, I realized stigmatizing views or attitudes about mental illnesses are not just limited to uninformed members of the general public; even well-trained professionals act by it.
Throughout my journey with Schizophrenia, I have faced stigma while being in treatment, at school, college and work. I can’t speak for everyone but in my experience, the stigma that’s associated with Schizophrenia has been harder to live with than the symptoms of the illness itself.
Today, despite taking my medications every day, going to therapy, getting enough sleep, exercising daily and getting the right support from my family, and my psychiatrist and psychologist who believe in me, I continue to live with the symptoms and will most likely have to for the rest of my life. However, I have learned to adapt with the inconsistency of my mind’s wellbeing; to make peace with my disability by redefining recovery in my own words which would mean, to be able to live and lead a quality & fulfilling life independently despite my illness.