What I Want People Who Talk About Suicide to Know About Stigma

content warning: this post briefly discusses suicide -- if you need support, reach out to a friend or family member, or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255

This morning, I didn’t take my medicine. I didn’t forget to take it. I intentionally ignored the bottles on my counter. *Before you get nervous – skipping one dose doesn’t really do anything given what I currently take. This stuff is in my bloodstream, so it takes more than one rough morning to change anything.*

Most people know that one of the symptoms of bipolar disorder is that people often won’t take their medication. But most people think this only happens during a hypomanic or manic episode – the media often portrays a patient who is manic feeling great and flushing their pills down the toilet.

But sometimes, non-compliance happens when we’re stable.

Because there are some mornings that you just want to feel like you can do this on your own. Some mornings the reminder that your brain might betray you is too much to handle. Sometimes the medicine and the bloodwork and the therapy all get to you.

The internet is an irrational place. If you’re not careful the people of Instagram and Facebook will tell you that if you just went to the gym, you would never be depressed again. Or if you liked kale, your brain chemistry would even out. Or if you used this essential oil, it could replace your medicine cabinet.

And then your friends start to believe the internet instead of you. So they start to ask questions like “how much do you take?!” Or “why can’t you just use grounding exercises instead of relying on anti-anxiety meds?!”

It’s really hard to feel like you’re not whole every day. And so there i was, ignoring the thing that levels out my brain chemistry.

Most of us recently found ourselves in the middle of a national conversation about suicide. It’s an incredibly important conversation, but it’s also one that leaves out a lot of voices.

For two weeks, i had to stay off the internet – not because the content was upsetting, but because a lot of people i love have harmful views about mental health. One article in particular was reposted over and over again. In it, Kirstin Powers wrote:

Yes, there are people who have chemical imbalances who should be supported and treated with medicine. But most Americans are depressed, anxious or suicidal because something is wrong with our culture, not because something is wrong with them.

Many of my friends latched on to that quote and posted it. Over and over again. It’s a stark reminder that we often believe that having a mental illness means that something is wrong with you. Every time I logged in, there was a glaring reminder that, at least subconsciously, many of my friends think something is wrong with me. I’ve had friends use the word “crazy” to describe me, even though I’ve never told anyone that would be okay. I’ve had friends compare my bipolar disorder to cancer – to suggest that I was somehow different from other people with “regular” mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. And the reality is that if I address these problematic statements, I’m often told that I’m being too sensitive – my views are judged by my mental illness, not by my experiences.

And so there I was, feeling incredibly not normal, and refusing to take my medicine.

As we continue to have conversations around suicide, we absolutely have to stop treating people with severe mental illness as foils for our own insecurities – like “at least I’m not that bad.” It’s all of our jobs to try to destigmatize all mental illnesses – not just depression and anxiety.

Destigmatizing all mental illnesses is especially important given the statistics about suicide for patients with bipolar disorder. It’s estimated that 50% of all patients with bipolar will attempt suicide – that’s double the rate of people with unipolar depression. Stigma is a huge part of this. I’m less likely to seek help and try to take care of myself when i feel like something is wrong with me, or like someone will judge me.

The next time you post about depression or anxiety, try to include a voice from another diagnosis like bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder. Include voices that aren’t just anxiety and depression. Those of us who feel like we can speak out have an obligation to start destigmatizing mental health for our friends who can’t be as open. Seek out new perspectives about mental health (if you need a starting point, themighty.com is a great site).

Tonight, I’ll go home and take my medicine. It will remind me that I will always need support to be able to be my best self. I’m working on being okay with this every day task, and I’m starting to realize that sometimes strength is found in the moments where you feel broken, but you take a step towards healing. I’ll be okay, but that’s not good enough anymore. We have to start creating a society where help isn’t stigmatized – and we can’t do that when we shut out half of a community.

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