I have been going back and forth on how to handle a situation I feel can control my life if I don’t take the right steps. I was diagnosed with a mental illness less than a year ago. I was in a very bad place and was really at my lowest and I was taken to a hospital. After leaving the hospital, I simply refused to continue with the plan the hospital had for me. I was fine for a few months but now I find myself battling back and forth with the illness. What scares me is the stigma with being African with a mental illness. What can I do?
Because social workers or therapist have to be culturally competent, I will give my therapeutic responses in one, or two,or sometimes three parts. The different ones will be westernized (when necessary), African (keeping our morals and values in the response, again when necessary) and religious (when needed and necessary).
I applaud you first for being able to recognize your warning signs or red flags. You do realize that you need to take a hold of this part of your life before it controls your entire life. The diagnosis is part of who you are and not who you are. When working with people and they say “Hi, I’m bipolar…” (that’s an example), I usually try to tell them “no, you are not bipolar. You have a bipolar disorder”. The first thing we always have to do with a new diagnosis is educate ourselves. Sometimes, the diagnosis brings on more anxiety because it is something new. With a new diagnosis, it is always good to get educated about what is it you are struggling with. Educating yourself will bring you to understand yourself more and will also teach you symptom management and ways to keep yourself from a crisis and/or the hospital.
Let’s talk about the stigma. The stigma you are talking about is present no matter what race or ethnicity you are. The media, news, movies and a lot more have negative views of mental illness. Let’s take for example, someone jumped the white house fence (a lot of that has been on the news lately) and the headline will read something along the line like “white house fence jumper suffers from a mental illness”. Such a headline gives society a negative view of mental illness and might make people feel unsafe and/or scared to be around someone with a mental illness. But what we fail to understand is that there are so many people in our society with a mental illness and they are highly functional. A diagnosis is not the end of you.
Another thing that can be a negative impact to you getting treatment will be your support system. I am not sure how old you are and what your living situation is but educating your support system is also a huge step towards taking control of this. Your support system is very critical because if they do not believe in or understand mental illness, the chances of you following through with treatment will be slim to none. This is where the education piece comes in. You can educate your support system one at a time and make them understand you more. When your support system is supportive of treatment, they can hold you accountable, help you with appointments and be there when things start going down a tunnel.
The diagnosis does not define who you are. Taking control starts with you learning about whatever your diagnosis is and taking the necessary steps recommended. If you need to get on medication, then take that serious because it is very necessary. If you need to see a therapist then take the necessary steps needed to set up an appointment. Sometimes it is good to go to that first appointment with someone you trust. They do not have to be part of the appointment but just having them ride with you will ease the anxiety.
E-mail me at firstname.lastname@example.org
Photo Credit: Dreamstime | Piotr Marcinski