Special Feature: Admitting There’s a Problem – Taking away Stigma and Shame

By Laura Chapman

If there’s one thing the last few weeks have taught me it’s that there really is no shame in admitting you’ve got a problem and want to open up about it.

When the death of Robin Williams was announced just last month, many people were stunned into silence that someone so bright, so vibrant and seemingly full of life and talent could take their own life. What many don’t realize is that a lot of the time, the smiles and the generosity of time and spirit can often hide something that runs much deeper and hits much harder.

I was diagnosed as having bipolar disorder just a few short months ago, but believe me, it took me years to be able to talk and to be able to open up, even though I knew and suspected there might well be a problem (so did my family, but they were also too afraid to ask, or to push me to seek help).
My moods had always been what my mom called “all over the place”, but it seemed to be much more extreme than a case of clinical depression. This seemed to be so much more intense, the manic hyper states of anxiety juxtaposed with extreme lows, so bad I was debilitated and couldn’t even raise my head off the pillow for weeks at a time.

Once it got to a point where the moods were coming in cycles and happening more and more regularly, it was my partner who pushed me into an appointment with a professional. I think, if we were both honest, we knew what it was. But hearing it being confirmed a little while later still felt like a hammer blow.

I’ve had to, in a lot of ways, change my life. Treatment for the symptoms of the illness can vary wildly from patient to patient and finding one “cure all” way of helping sufferers isn’t possible. I’ve had to accept that for now I’m going to be on a strong regimen of anti-depressants and therapy, until I can come to terms with everything and also until my moods stabilize. But, I can honestly say, now I know I feel I can deal with life better than I ever could. If you’re suffering with any of the warning signs, speak up and get help.


15 thoughts on “Special Feature: Admitting There’s a Problem – Taking away Stigma and Shame

  1. Good for you for getting help. When other parts of our bodies need medical treatment, we rush off to a doctor, but there’s still a horrible stigma attached to mental health. We should be able to get care without worrying about being judged.

  2. I’ve suffered from clinical depression in the past, and probably would have died if my family hadn’t intervened. A very nasty, nasty thing about clinical depression is that in most cases, it renders you unable to seek help on your own. I very very much agree with what you’re saying – seek help at the first sign of any problems. If you wait too long, you won’t be able to.

    I want to add one thing: African-Americans run a much greater risk than all other Americans of not being diagnosed correctly with clinical depression (and other mental illnesses, but mainly depression). This has very real and VERY serious consequences. I’m a white non-American, and I don’t wanna “lecture” you about it; I may know a lot of psychology, but I’m nowhere close enough to the African-American experience, what that life is like, to think I could write well about it. But do google about African-Americans and depression. You’ll find a *lot* of disturbing reading. Maybe Brothawolf could write an article about it? He sure is sensitive and intelligent enough.

    Sorry, I don’t wan’t to be somebody who tells PoC what to do or anything, but mental illness touches me deeply (I’m a diagnosed Aspie too. And let me tell you, Asperger might be seen as the “good” kind of Autism, but it can still wreck havoc with you). So I can’t help barging in; it has defined my whole life and I do want to try and help any way I can with combating it, and inform.

  3. As soon as we realize the brain just like any other part of the body gets sick, we need to learn not to pass judgement when people get ill. In the African American community we really need to learn this. That’s why this illness is so shame based. Many of us are too judgemental. If one needs help they need to get it immediately.

    1. I personally believe that the reason mental illness and treatment is looked down upon in the Black community is because, for so long, Black folks had to deal with their issues on their own without counseling. The church was probably the only place where people found solace from their troubles (that and singing the blues.)

      Remember, during slavery, Black people could not run to a psychiatrist and say, “Hey doc, I’m having daydreams of killing my massa. He’s an a******, he beats me and my children, and he rapes my woman. How can I deal with this madness?” There were no group counseling sessions for slaves to air their grievances on the plantation and figure out how to deal with life there. Someone once told me that some slaves were even beaten or killed if they acted out in ways that was caused by the mental trauma that they were experiencing as a result of their mistreatment. Their actions were sometimes misconstrued as them being “uppity” or “out of order” and they were punished as a result.

      No one thinks about these things when it comes to the mental health of Black folks. My mother once told me that crying was a sign of weakness, a very weird comment coming from a woman. And she is one of those folks who once looked down on the seeking psychiatric help. I told her that it does not pay to be crazy as cat shit.

  4. I know for a fact that racism can cause sickness when one has been on the receiving end of it. Racism can make you sick.

      1. Folks, it is a sad state of affairs when people will divulge alcoholism and drug abuse(sometimes mental illness can result in long term abuse). However, something like mental illness whatever the cause is still somewhat of a taboo. There is nothing to be ashamed of. With that being said, I believe there is a difference between the chronic depression experienced by blacks than that of whites. I believe the depression experienced by blacks is due in most part to racism. That of whites is due to white supremacy. Whatever the case get help.

  5. No doubt about it, mental illness is the same as physical. What don’t people understand, your brain IS a physical part of your body so how could it not affect your body in its entirety? I’ve felt more exhausted when I was depressed than when I got the flu for crying out loud.

  6. About the medications. The best way to cycle things a bit. With any type of mental illness, including depression, know that you are not alone. That state of mind alone sometimes triggers the “oh well” effect. In my opinion, sometimes mental illness hold its grasp further by making its victim think they are the only sufferer those feeling even more reclusive. Just a change in environment and health practices may help more than any pill.

  7. I agree with this whole post. Unfortunately, even in society it is still taboo despite the health centers they have dedicated to bipolar and depression. However, as a whole, every community needs to come together on this issue. Another star called Simone Battle has recently committed suicide, its yet to be seen as to whether she was suffering from anything, but I wouldn’t rule it out. The face of bipolar or depression can be Black, Asian, and more.

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