Wednesday, 11 May 2011

About Stigma & the Language We Use

I had coffee with a friend the other day. It was wonderful to once again sit in the warm cocoon of a local coffee shop and shoot the breeze. We talked about many things, from family, to school, to work. Finally we touched on the subject we both shared, our battles with depression.

The conversation was nonthreatening so we both felt comfortable in sharing all we had been through. Her story was as brutal as one could imagine and yet she refused to label herself as ill. In fact she felt it was a label which furthered the stigma we both live with. She informed me that she preferred to use the phrase, ‘I have mental health issues’ rather then the common phrase, ‘I have a mental illness.’ I have been pondering this idea ever since.

I am very comfortable referrer to myself as a ‘mental health consumer’ instead of ‘a mentally ill patient’, and yet I held on fast to the phrase ‘mental illness.’ So I am now questioning do I need to take it one step further, and begin to remind myself that I am dealing with issues and not illness. As I consider I realized that if someone were to ask me if I am ill with depression today, I would say I am in a remission. My symptoms are presently under my management instead of me under the management of my symptoms. But with that said, I am nothing like I was before my last episode, I am more vulnerable and far more fragile. But am I still ill and should I allow myself to speak of myself in that way?

Stigma is my chosen battle ground. I strongly believe that my energy is best used shifting previously held prejudices and misconceptions of all mental health illnesses or issues. As I go through my day taking all opportunities to enlighten others it now occurs to me that maybe I had room to grow in my own enlightenment.

I believe my friend has hit the nail on the head. I am no longer mentally ill, while in remission I am dealing with mental health issues. This phrase just feels more appropriate. Like I am a consumer not a patient, I am not ill just dealing with my issues. To my friend, and you know who you are, I am so grateful for the gift of enlightenment you bestowed upon me that afternoon at Timmy’s.

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