This is blog 5 of a series of 10 on this topic. Peer support and a wellness approach to mental illness have brought great changes in people’s lives. They foster a renewed sense of choice, hope and empowerment, that assist in regaining well-being. We’ve had a lot of talk in our community over the years about stigma and overcoming it. We’ve made strides. We’ve fallen back. We have tragedies that occur that maybe set us back even further and then we claw back again. What are some of the strategies the peers at Recovery Innovations have used to handle stigma? We’ve been sharing some thoughts and experiences of peer counselors J, K, R and Y, working with Recovery Innovations both as participants in the system and as coaches helping others.
R states, “I’m a person, I’m not a diagnosis. I don’t accept labels from others, saying ‘You’re this.’ No. I’m me and that’s how I deal with a lot of the stigma.”
The family can be the hardest sell. M confesses, “My family dropped me, denied that anything was wrong with me when I got sick and didn’t have anything to do with me.”
K shares, “They didn’t understand depression in the sense that everybody gets depressed but they didn’t understand the biological factors that played into my depression at the time. Labels – I moved them out of my words because I don’t think it’s fair at this point, because I am a person, I am a human being. I’m K.”
Is it difficult to get people to accept the way a person can change? Over time, do they fall in line or do you have to do more personal education, ask for their support? What kind of things can a person do to help move that along?
Y shares, “I had my mom go to some of the conferences on people with mental health challenges and she learned from that and she also learned from me just by observing me and knowing when I’m well and when I’m not well. She’ll say to me now, ‘Are you feeling OK?’ I’ll think, maybe I’m not having a good day, but I’m OK. I had to educate her and my whole family. My family kinda disowned me for awhile because of the challenges I was going through.”
Do the peers feel today that they are now better champions of wellness as a result of educating family members? Do they still have to give refresher courses?
J’s sister-in-law had some mental health challenges and her brother had to learn from his experience with her and “he now understands me a lot better too, so it’s an ongoing process. He tells me things that he reads on the Internet on new treatments and asks me about them now too, so that’s a big step for my brother to do right now!”
In our next blog, Vernon will share some stigmas he dealt with in his own family.