The stigma of mental illness and suicide

  1. 16

    What makes someone decide to take her own life? A nurse contemplates the stigma still attached, almost 30 years after her own suicide attempt. Most of the nursing community, the Christian community, even the general public, can't see mental illness for what it really is. What has your experience been? How do you feel about mental illness, recovery, and suicide?

    There has been quite a lot of conversation about Mindy McCready's suicide and mental illness,and it amazes me the different opinions people have about suicide and mental illness. I thought that I should "come out of the closet" once again about this issue, and talk about my own experiences with it. The article below was written by a man who has the illness and his experiences and thoughts. I thought it would ba good springboard for what I am going to write, below: A Tragic story that applies to millions


    I had a serious suicide attempt in 1985, and I had no thought whatsoever of what effect it might have on my family and friends. For that matter, I didn't realize that I had a mental illness and alcoholism. I just wanted out of the pain. Even though I have come a long way in recovery, and even though now I am a Christian, depression can be a very powerful thing. It is like a vacuum pulling you away from everything that is logical and good - even from the knowledge of God sometimes.

    I found out later that I have bipolar illness, like Ms. McCready, and I have to be on medication to keep it under control (some don't seem to). I am ashamed to admit it and I hide it. People judge it, in themselves and in others - which I think is one reason that there is such a bad outcome to the disease. If people knew that they had it, and sought help and treatment, I don't think there would be so many suicides. This woman did seek help, however, so treatment is not always successful.

    I hate to even bring this up, but it seems that even in the Christian community, where we are to have compassion and understanding, there is a huge stigma. Many believe that if you do what you are supposed to do, and if you have enough faith, you won't need medication. The implication is that you basically won't have bipolar or depression (or other mental illnesses).

    This belief is found in the secular community as well. Pull yourself up by the bootstraps, do what you are supposed to do, and all will be well.

    I haven't found this to be true for me. I even went off medications for two years and the results were almost disastrous for me and for those around me. Trust me, I tried, and I "did everything I was supposed to." Still, God did not heal me; still, I could not get and keep my act together. But read about Paul in the Bible, who suffered physical affliction that was not healed: (1)For this thing I besought the Lord thrice, that it might depart from me. And he said unto me, My grace is sufficient for thee: for my strength is made perfect in weakness.

    Again I feel ashamed about this. Not that I have the illness, but about admitting in the open that I have it. Admitting that I still struggle sometimes. Even in the nursing community, where we have been educated, and where we have access to a lot more information, the stigma persists.Hang out at any nursing station and you will hear it: "That" woman, that "nutjob," etc.

    But I answer to God, and I take responsibility for keeping myself and others safe from my symptoms. What can I say. I'm thankful for all God has done and is doing for me. He is so good! I'm thankful He has kept me sober and has kept me out of a psych hospital for several years, and I hope I never take these things for granted! (2) ... Most gladly therefore will I rather glory in my infirmities, that the power of Christ may rest upon me.

    What has your experience been? How do you feel about mental illness, recovery, and suicide?

    Kudos to the other nurses who have "outed" themselves about this issue. One that I admire is Viva las viejas here on Allnurses. She has given me a lot of courage in this regard!

    1) 2 Corinthians 12:7-9
    2) 2 Corinthians 12:9
    Last edit by Joe V on Oct 1, '13
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  2. Visit  Liddle Noodnik profile page

    About Liddle Noodnik

    Liddle Noodnik has '30' year(s) of experience and specializes in 'Alzheimer's, Geriatrics, Chem. Dep.'. From 'East Gish'; 56 Years Old; Joined Apr '03; Posts: 11,247; Likes: 8,534.

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    25 Comments so far...

  3. Visit  herring_RN profile page
    4
    My cousin, just ten months younger than me. is bi-polar.
    he was nearly 50 before being diagnosed. We've always been close and it continues in old age.
    I've worked with many nurses with mental illness. Diagnosed and treated they are friends, colleagues, and good neighbors.
  4. Visit  leslie :-D profile page
    8
    i appreciate your candor and courage in discussing your mi, liddle.
    thank you for that.

    i've had major depressive disorder my entire life...with lots of anxiety.
    then dx'd with traumatic ptsd in 2004.
    i just wish *normal, mentally healthy* folks would walk 1 day in our shoes and understand how impermeable many of the meds are...
    that some of us, just never, ever find the right combo, and live a life of quiet resignation.

    i've tried every antidepressant out there, still go to therapy (sev'l yrs now), have had ect...
    and sometimes, just wait to die.
    i talk with God atc, and have conceded that my life is going to be like this until i leave earth.
    i've accepted it and my faith remains unshakeable...
    that for unknown reasons, this is what my life is supposed to be.

    as for suicide...phew...lots of harsh judgments out there.
    i consider suicide incredibly desperate and beyond tragic.
    i don't see it as "selfish".
    or, if it is, the selfishness cannot pale in contrast to the futility and despair the person is feeling.

    perhaps if mental illness wasn't so stigmatized, sufferers would try to obtain the care they so desperately need.
    there is no immediate cure for mi.
    at best, we can try to manage our symptoms the best way we know how.
    but until services and support are readily available to all in need, millions will continue to suffer...
    and lead their lives ultimately in a haunting desolation.

    i am grateful however, that despite how i feel, i am a woman at peace...
    and know that in good time, i will find the purpose and truth of what it all is supposed to mean.
    until then, i do not complain and remain blessed with all He has given me.
    i've said it before and will say it again:
    it really is, all good.

    leslie
  5. Visit  wish_me_luck profile page
    5
    Liddle, I was raised Roman Catholic. I think most people know about the Catholic belief on people who commit suicide. That being said, I have had a suicide attempt before. I am not into the church aspect of spiritual beliefs as much anymore, but I do believe in God. This God I believe in, He is the same God that created me and my mental illness (mental illness has a biological and environmental basis; therefore, if He created me, then he created my mental illness. It is not a spiritual thing). I personally believe He gave me a mental illness for a reason. I do not think I have a mental illness due to being evil, not praying enough, or not being a good person. I do think people with mental illness can recover and have wonderful lives.

    I do have some really rough days; do not get me wrong...days where I just sit there and not just cry, but sob. However, maybe God gave me a mental illness to have a wonderful purpose in life--to be a voice of change; to know how to be compassionate towards my fellow man who, too, suffers from illness, especially mental illness; to be creative and appreciate the little things in life.
  6. Visit  leslie :-D profile page
    3
    wish_me_luck, i just loved your post, all of it.
    such a remarkable attitude, and i agree with you 100%.
    God bless you...as it seems He did.

    leslie
  7. Visit  wish_me_luck profile page
    5
    Thank you, Leslie. You may not like me that much when I throw this thought out there...in the days after the shooting at Sandy Hook, when all the mental health information was coming out about Adam Lanza and there were nasty comments made about people with mental illness (not here, but in the news page comments); I couldn't help but think to myself--there were 20 children and 7 adults killed, including the mother. That adds to 27 people--statistically speaking, one in five people have/will have some sort of mental illness...that means, if those kids were alive today, then some of those kids killed might have grown up and had a mental illness. I just think it's weird how society views people as "innocent", "having so much potential", "having their whole lives ahead of them", etc. and having so much worth as a person; then, bam...they are diagnosed with or disclose they have a mental illness, then their worth goes to zero and they are viewed as "dangerous", "crazy", "lazy", etc.

    I realized that death was permanent when I was in second grade--I was like 7 years old...the first time I ever wanted to die/kill myself? When I was 7 years old...elementary school kids sometimes think about suicide (a few attempt/succeed at it), it's not only teenagers and adults.
  8. Visit  DeLanaHarvickWannabe profile page
    5
    Quote from leslie :-D
    have had ect...
    When I was a tech, I worked in the only facility in the state that did ECT treatment. I know all about it, but I've never been able to ask anyone what it was like or if it helped. If you're comfortable, can you go into a little more detail about it?

    Anyway, I have never actually attempted suicide - my depressive disorder tended to leave me more without any energy to come up with a plan. But I can completely understand how suicidal people feel.

    Mindy's death shook me to my core because although lots of celebrities have ended their own lives, very few of them actually had an impact on my life. I remember when Mindy's first album came out. I remember her being engaged to Dean Cain. She was so pretty that country's version of Weird Al, Cletus T. Judd, wrote a song all about her and how he wanted to be with her.

    My ex actually was raised to believe that mental illness did not exist! And he was raised by educated people...so I think we have a long way to go in the way of stigma...
  9. Visit  leslie :-D profile page
    4
    the following story is sort of r/t the topic:

    when the company i worked for changed corporate hands, the new owners immediately hired a new mgmt team.
    one of the very first actions they took, was to make one of our (severely mentally-challenged) residents a dnh.
    she was already a dnr.
    i asked why they had persuaded the mpoa in agreeing to this new directive.
    what it essentially amounted to, is this pt had a fdg tube, was 86, and had no quality of life.
    when this pt was first admitted to our facility, she was violent and aggressive.
    with lots of love and attn, she became affectionate and social.
    "ruthie" loved to watch her barney-the-dinasaur videos, would sing, and loved interacting with anyone who paid attn to her.
    to me, she did have a decent quality of life, as she was happy.
    anyways, the bottom line to me was, they made her a dnh because a severely mentally-delayed person has no qol, OR,
    because she was devalued as a person in gen'l.
    stuff like this happens too often.
    i sometimes wonder who truly have the mental disorders.

    and you are 100% correct, that children can definitely be depressed.
    i speak from experience.
    great input, wish_me_luck.

    leslie
  10. Visit  leslie :-D profile page
    5
    Quote from DeLanaHarvickWannabe
    When I was a tech, I worked in the only facility in the state that did ECT treatment. I know all about it, but I've never been able to ask anyone what it was like or if it helped. If you're comfortable, can you go into a little more detail about it?
    i agreed to ect shortly after being dx'd with traumatic ptsd in late 2004.
    the psychiatrist had me on a cocktail of meds, which ended up over-sedating me, blunting my affect severely.
    i had seen successful (actually, amazing!!) results of ect, esp from 1 pt i am recalling.
    so yes, i asked the dr. about it, and he agreed the meds weren't helping (more on that later).
    i do not remember specifics but they started on one side of my brain, and ended up zapping me on both sides...
    i think, a few times/wk for around 4 wks.

    BIGGEST mistake of my life...for me, anyways.
    i felt fried for at least a year...a literal zombie.
    i wasn't happy, i wasn't depressed...i wasn't anything.
    picture a schleppy-dressed and salivating middle-aged woman with shuffle gait.

    it took me a long, long time to 'recover'...
    and it definitely destroyed certain areas of brain function.
    i struggle to this day, with gathering, retaining, processing, executing data.
    i am not sure which part of the brain was affected, but i surely lost a notable chunk of ability.

    all that said, i wouldn't discourage anyone from ect.
    as stated, i have witnessed truly miraculous results.
    but for me, i made a bad decision in pursuing this option.
    the meds i was on, sedated me to the point where i looked hopelessly depressed...a train wreck.

    i can't say i regret it, because i believe that any and all adversity, inevitably benefits us.
    as i love to say so often, ...it's all good...it really is.

    leslie
    Last edit by leslie :-D on Feb 19, '13
  11. Visit  VivaLasViejas profile page
    5
    Quote from wish_me_luck
    However, maybe God gave me a mental illness to have a wonderful purpose in life--to be a voice of change; to know how to be compassionate towards my fellow man who, too, suffers from illness, especially mental illness; to be creative and appreciate the little things in life.
    That's IT!!!

    I often wonder the same thing, if I was given this thing as a gift rather than a piece of rotten luck. It sure doesn't feel like a gift.....but then when I write, or do a really good job on something, or help someone else who's worse off than I am, I think to myself that I'd probably never have been able to do it if I didn't have this cross to bear. Who knows? Definitely something to ponder.....
  12. Visit  Liddle Noodnik profile page
    7
    add. note: This is long and convoluted because I would really rather write this, than do laundry. haha!

    Quote from VivaLasViejas

    I often wonder the same thing, if I was given this thing as a gift rather than a piece of rotten luck. It sure doesn't feel like a gift.....but then when I write, or do a really good job on something, or help someone else who's worse off than I am, I think to myself that I'd probably never have been able to do it if I didn't have this cross to bear. Who knows? Definitely something to ponder.....
    That is the hardest principle right there. I am "supposed to be" grateful for my infirmities, but also to be grateful that my burden is not heavier to bear. Who says? well I had heard it said, and then I lived it and found it to be true. A few thoughts:

    There's a comic strip I've seen where it shows a man carrying a big rock and sweating profusely. It is a close up of him bending over from the weight of it.. Then the view backs up and you see many other people carrying rocks, some even bigger than his.

    Now understanding this is not meant to minimize our pain. We all learned in nursing school that pain is totally subjective. God knows I had a high PHYSICAL pain threshold when I was in labor. I was told that my contractions were twice what most women go through (based on the monitor). But emotional pain - man, I am a wimp! Over the years I have built up some tolerance but MAN - I struggle sometimes!

    One thing that has helped my depression IS to look around and see who has it rougher than I do, and try to help them. Not to the excess of being a caretaker (taking on someone's responsibilities when they should take care of them themselves), nor to the excess of failing to care for myself. But it is a joy to be able to lighten someone's load, and to forget my own for a while. I've heard it said that "a person wrapped up in himself makes a small package," and it sure is true of me.

    Another slogan, "When I'm in my own head I'm in a bad neighborhood." Again, not minimizing my pain, nor my intelligence! But when I am depressed all I can think about is myself and my pain. When I help someone else, I can get outside of myself and let my problems be - they will often work themselves out to some degree! And this kind of forgetfulness/distraction is a lot healthier than indulging in my addictions and other self-destructive behaviors.

    One of the gifts as has already been mentioned is that my experience in dealing w/ my alcoholism, my mental illness, and even non- mental health issues, enable me to help others in similar situations. I can't count the number of times my parenting issues have been helped by parents who have been where I've been. Later I became able to pass on a little wisdom from my experiences to other mothers. People who have gone through battles are uniquely equipped to help others in the same situation. I know that those who haven't had mental illness or alcoholism really have trouble understanding my troubles, and have trouble knowing how to help. But to express my feelings with someone who's been in my shoes w/ their own mental health - absolutely priceless. Oh my goodness! There are several right here on allnurses with whom I've had that kind of relationship. (sniff) what would I do w/o them?

    There was also a therapy group I attended for a while, and they gave an illustration: Imagine that everyone in a circle has a bag filled with their troubles. They always felt like they would rather be like so and so. After all, we think, "they have it SO EASY!"

    So again, picture everyone sitting in the circle with their own bag of burdens, all different. Big ones, small ones, multiple ones, even self-induced ones. We don't know what is in each bag, but we can guess. The ones who look happier and more put together, their burdens are the ones I want. Not this great big one I am carrying.

    And so, thinking to lighten their own load by taking someone elses, everyone places their bag in the middle of the circle. Then each person takes turns, selecting a bag that is not their own. Maybe it seems lighter, or just different.

    After they've chosen their new bag, they open the bag to see what is in it. Most people find that they would prefer to have their own bag back. Number one, the people who looked good on the outside might not have had it as good as it seemed. They might have faked it better, they might have learned how to deal with it, or whatever.

    And number two, at least w/ our own burdens, we know how to handle them. Someone else's, we may be puzzled or overwhelmed.

    One big thing I have to remember is not to compare MY INSIDES with someone elses OUTSIDES. I don't know what is really going on with them. Everyone is fighting a battle though, to some degree.

    Ok, got to quit writing and take up my own burden (laundry bag). Anyone want it?

    What are your thoughts?
    Last edit by Liddle Noodnik on Feb 21, '13
  13. Visit  BrettThomas profile page
    5
    Two things.... One, I'm the guy that wrote the article. When I wrote it, I was actually incensed that the only time MI gets covered is when a celeb dies, or goes to rehab. The second thing is, I was humbled by the fact that my little "rant" actually ended up getting multiple shares shares on Facebook, Google +, and twitter as well. It seems it was shared here also, and I've read what you have had to say about your experiences as well. I hope you don't consider this an intrusion... none of this will be seen nor shared by any means with the "outside world" as an FYI... I myself am a very private person.

    However, since I am here, and have read your comments, I'd like to enter my 2 cents if I may... I would doubt seriously that a God would purposefully debilitate a creature with any illness. That being said.... If we are in fact created in a God's image, then that God would have emotions as well. It would logically follow that some might feel those emotions more strongly than others . I tend to believe that is more likely the case with bipolar at least; it isn't so much always a bad thing as an uncontrollable one. I have moments of pure empathy for clients, or for children, or for injured animals. Moments of Joy and Love that transcend any drug, and emotional pains that burn worse than any hell. The strength of these emotions without medications completely overwhelm any and all logical thought. I had a really smart friend once that told me bipolar was the next step in human evolution. While that concept might be true, it isn't a ride I can handle without help.

    In any case, it is nice to know I am not alone. That there ARE others out there trying to cope and make it daily in the "real" world as well. Good luck to you all. Hope my article helped you as much as it did me
    TopazLover, rn/writer, leslie :-D, and 2 others like this.
  14. Visit  Liddle Noodnik profile page
    3
    Quote from BrettThomas
    Two things.... One, I'm the guy that wrote the article. When I wrote it, I was actually incensed that the only time MI gets covered is when a celeb dies, or goes to rehab. The second thing is, I was humbled by the fact that my little "rant" actually ended up getting multiple shares shares on Facebook, Google +, and twitter as well. It seems it was shared here also, and I've read what you have had to say about your experiences as well. I hope you don't consider this an intrusion... none of this will be seen nor shared by any means with the "outside world" as an FYI... I myself am a very private person.

    However, since I am here, and have read your comments, I'd like to enter my 2 cents if I may... I would doubt seriously that a God would purposefully debilitate a creature with any illness. That being said.... If we are in fact created in a God's image, then that God would have emotions as well. It would logically follow that some might feel those emotions more strongly than others . I tend to believe that is more likely the case with bipolar at least; it isn't so much always a bad thing as an uncontrollable one. I have moments of pure empathy for clients, or for children, or for injured animals. Moments of Joy and Love that transcend any drug, and emotional pains that burn worse than any hell. The strength of these emotions without medications completely overwhelm any and all logical thought. I had a really smart friend once that told me bipolar was the next step in human evolution. While that concept might be true, it isn't a ride I can handle without help.

    In any case, it is nice to know I am not alone. That there ARE others out there trying to cope and make it daily in the "real" world as well. Good luck to you all. Hope my article helped you as much as it did me
    So glad you wrote! Awesome job on the article!

    And yeah there are lots of us fighting the good fight and trying to achieve a good quality of life that we deserve try
    http://allnurses.com/health-stress-m...ne-817286.html

    Also several threads here:

    Nurses With Disabilities
    Last edit by Liddle Noodnik on Mar 2, '13


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