Conversations and Experiences of Stigma Against Mental Illness

Bleurgh

I’ve had many conversations about mental illness and Bipolar. I am very open and honest about my illness, and have refused to hide it. I want to show people that even though I have a mental illness, it does not make me weak. On the contrary, I believe to be able to keep fighting this disorder I am stronger than I ever would have been without it. People like to think mental illness doesn’t define them but sometimes it can. It has moulded me into a fighter, and I won’t ever stop.

There have been times where I faced stigma because of my illness. Below are just a few instances;

A few years ago now I worked for the local council. I thoroughly enjoyed my job as a Family Worker but was suffering with depression and trying to keep it at bay. Unfortunately it meant I had to take time out, to look after myself. A certain colleague would make snide remarks about my time off, saying,

“At least I’m actually here all the time, not like some people.” or “Some people are just not able to cope with stress as well as others.” They would look at me directly as they made these comments, a smirk across their face. It made me feel like I was a failure at my job, a job which I took great pride in. I hadn’t been diagnosed with Bipolar at that time, and felt like I was always having to make excuses or justify why I was depressed.

Later, I applied for a job at an NHS day nursery. the interview went well and I was offered the job the same day, subject to references. I was ecstatic and went out and celebrated that evening with my boyfriend. A few days later I received a phone call from the manager of the nursery. The first thing she said was in an abrupt, unsettling tone,

“Why didn’t you tell me?” Naturally I was confused and taken aback so I asked her what she meant. “Your sickness record is very poor, you should have explained this at interview.” I knew there was nothing I could say, and my heart sank. I didn’t get the job. At the time I had still didn’t have a diagnosis, so felt I couldn’t pursue them for being discriminatory.

When I’m feeling high and a bit manic, I will talk to anyone and everyone. I started talking to this lad at a nightclub, he was quite young and seemed nice enough. He started telling me about himself and how he was an awful person. Me being kind and sympathetic said,

“No, no don’t beat yourself up, you don’t seem that bad to me.” He then asked,

“So tell me about yourself.”

“What do you want to know?” I replied.

“Well, what do you do?”

“I’m unemployed.” I said reluctantly.

“Why aren’t you working then?” he asked.

“Because I’m not well.” I said simply. Then he asked what the matter was. This was the point where I paused. Did I want to be honest? I had only recently been diagnosed. I thought why not, I have nothing to hide and nothing to be ashamed of.  I suppose I felt guilty being out at a nightclub when I was ill and that some people may not understand how I can manage to do that. I decided to be honest, expecting more questions. “I have Bipolar.”

“Oh” he said, sounding disappointed. This was when the mood changed and I was subjected to a tirade of negative opinion about the illness. “I had this girlfriend with Bipolar. I had to leave her, she was a fucking nightmare. I couldn’t handle it, she made my life hell. You lot are all a nightmare.” Then he asked if I had a boyfriend. I replied I had and he started again. “Fucking hell, how does he manage living with you?! You know you’re lucky to have a boyfriend if you’ve got Bipolar.” I was seething. How dare he judge me when he had just met me, all because I had a mental illness! I looked at him and calmly said before walking away,

“Well, I feel very sorry for any woman who has to deal with you. You’ll be very lucky to find another girlfriend with an attitude like that.”

Near the end of last year I had to take time off work because I was struggling with a deep depression. When I returned the manager was acting very strangely. He hardly spoke to me and didn’t ask me how I was feeling or welcomed me back. I had a conversation with another member of staff who I found out also had Bipolar. It felt good to know I wasn’t alone at work. However, I was given a word of warning.

“Just be careful, I was nearly sacked because of my Bipolar.” I was shocked and concerned.

“What! Why?”

“The manager doesn’t get it. I was told to cheer up because I was bringing the rest of the team down. We had a massive argument and he nearly fired me.” I instantly felt worried that I would have to paint a mask on at work every time I felt unwell. I then understood the managers reaction when I returned to work. I knew that Bipolar was not seen as a legitimate illness and I was deemed a nuisance for suffering from it.

The stigma I have suffered has been upsetting, but I try not to dwell on it. These are people who are ignorant and need to be educated. I am lucky enough to have a wonderful husband, family and friends that support me, and will ask me how I’m doing and who really want a genuine answer. Not everyone has that and I can’t imagine how difficult it would be not to have that support net.

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