Article in PDF (Download)
The Stigma of Mental Illness – Dr. Candess M Campbell
In conversation with a client this morning, we focused on the stigma of mental illness. She had been at a family gathering talking with a friend who volunteered with celebrities Tom Hanks and Glenn Close as advocates for the mentally ill.
Whether it be the mentally ill homeless woman pushing a shopping cart down the streets of downtown, loaded with all her worldly belongings; your elderly neighbor who hoards and rarely makes it out of the house or your daughter who cannot get out of bed; the reminders of the issue of mental illness are everywhere.
Although each illness has its own symptomology and pathology, an underlying issue for most mental illnesses is the lack of self-esteem. Whether this lack of self-esteem is a partial cause for the illness or a response to mental illness, it really doesn’t matter.
Kara is a well-know buyer for a large fashion store in London. She awakes every morning at 5 am in her luxurious downtown high-rise apartment. Dressing and accessorizing is a breeze as she has the latest samples to choose from. Every morning she evaluates the fabric and construction of her ensemble. She hurries to catch a taxi across town for her 7 am team meeting. She is well prepared to facilitate their generating business analysis. They track their sales and identify key trends. She enters the well-lit room and takes her place at the front of the room. Her hands begin to perspire and she feels a little shaky. The room begins to wobbly and she can’t breathe. She looks out at her colleagues and is terrified. She fears they can see she’s feeling paralyzed with an intense sense of dread. She continues to attempt to take a deep breaths as she balances herself by placing her hands on the long cherry wood table. She excuses herself for a moment and rushes out the door.
Kara just had a panic attack.
She enters the restroom and sits on a cushioned bench and tries to regain herself. Her thoughts race as she’s saying to herself “I can’t do this,” “they don’t like me,” “I should never have taken this job,” “I’m not ready,” “I’ll never fit in,” “I don’t belong,” “I need to go home!”
What I didn’t share is as she sat in the taxi on the way to the meeting; these very thoughts were going through her head. She had recently been hired at this prestigious company and it was her first position where she supervised others. She was responsible for a team of 12 associates. When she met the CEO of the company at a party given by a friend a couple months ago, the three martini’s she imbued gave her an expanded vitality and a confidence that waned the next morning. He was happy to meet with her and invited her to apply for the upcoming position. At the insistence of her supportive friend, she put in an application.
What the CEO didn’t know is that she suffered from an anxiety disorder and has panic attacks. Although her mental health issue has created problems in other jobs, she’s brilliant and has been able to move up in her career, therefore leaving no doubt of her abilities.
You can see that mental illness can affect the most successful of people as well as those who cannot function well in society. With Kara and others who suffer from anxiety disorders; medication, herbal remedies, and dietary changes can be helpful. What I find is many people attempt to “get over it” and by the time they reach out for help, the issue has developed to the point that they lose their job or become so isolated they cannot function.
Without searching for help, their self-esteem plummets and the more they feed the monster of negative self-talk, the stronger it becomes and the longer it takes to recover.
Some mental health disorders such as bi-polar disorder or schizophrenia are more difficult to treat. These two disorders do need to be treated medicinally and often those who are bi-polar or schizophrenic are not open to taking or staying on medication. With treatment and support from their friends and family, they can be successful, but often end up struggling on their own.
Mental health counseling is a necessary component for ongoing recovery when treating mental illness. Many doctors though, who prescribe medication don’t require this. A referral to counseling from their doctor can be a powerful impetus for the patient.
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy is well known as a staple in the treatment of mental illness and the symptom of low self-esteem. This is a modality I have used for many years. CBT is the process of one changing their thinking in order to change their feeling and behaviors. As seen with Kara, self-talk was the most powerful choice in determining how she felt and subsequently, how she behaved.
It is important to understand you are a whole being and your behaviors, thinking, feelings and physiology all affect each other. Therefore, when Kara offered training to her colleagues, it happened like this. Her self-talk was “I am not prepared, I know I will mess this up,” and she leaned on the table and eventually left the room (doing). She was terrified and felt dread (feeling) and her hands perspired and she was shaky (physiology). On the other hand, had she said to herself, “I am ready and these are my friends, this presentation will go smoothly,” she may have stood tall (doing), being elated (feeling) and her adrenaline would be high from excitement (physiology).
Two common forms of mental illness are depression and anxiety. In both of these, negative self-talk continues to propagate the illness. So what to do?
Firstly, you need to recognize the self-talk. Most people do not slow down and listen to what they are saying to themselves. To do this, you may want to stop during the day and pay attention to what you say to yourself. It is helpful in the beginning to keep a notebook to document your thoughts. Another way may be to listen to what you are saying to others. Here yourself speak and take notes. Again, often people talk without paying attention or realize what they are saying.
The negative self-talk often recycles itself and so you can jot down a few of the phrases or sentences you say to yourself and then work with them first. To do this, challenge the thoughts. Write the down and then use your conscious mind to nurture yourself and challenge the negativity. Write out the positive comments you can say to yourself and when you find yourself playing the negative self-talk, either replace it with the positives. Although this seems cumbersome, it is well proven to work long-term.
Candess M. Campbell, PhD is the #1 Best-selling author of 12 Weeks to Self-Healing: Transforming Pain through Energy Medicine. She is in private practice in Washington State (US) as a licensed mental health and chemical dependency counselor. Internationally she is an Intuitive Consultant, Speaker, and Seminar Leader.
Check out Candess M Campbell’s articles on Live Encounters