My Brilliant Brother and My Self Stigma
I’m really proud of my brother Pete Yetton; entrepreneur, human rights lawyer, business owner, father, husband, son, friend to many and a superb brother. He’s multi-talented and successful in what he does and if you met him, his humility in one area would ping your heart. He is never embarrassed to discuss the mental health problems he’s grappled with in his life. He keeps himself active and healthy to live the most positive life he can. He’s been an advocate for workmates who need a voice. I know he has been supported and has supported others without question or hesitation and he is always open about the challenges poor mental health can and has presented.
I am always here for my friends when they need support and also for my clients but I confess I am also ashamed to discuss the mental health challenges I have experienced personally. After all, who wants to see a therapist who is twisting in the wind with their own demons? I am told by those close to me that it’s good to see a therapist you know has been through the mill and understands mental illness not just from a theory perspective but I know it’s still not something one talks about with clients.
Why are we still so subject to self stigma when it comes to mental illness? Did you know at any one time approximately 40% of the population is suffering from one form of mental illness or another. I won’t say some are more serious than others because whether you have general anxiety or schizo-affective disorder, the symptoms which arise are all too much for the sufferer because they impair ‘normal’ life functioning. As far as I observe, very few movies or tv shows portray mental illness effectively. But then again, how can they show what lies so well hidden in so many?
Clients who come to me are often ashamed of their mental illness and I do my best to normalize it for them. As a psychotherapist, I believe that there are many aspects of mental illness which can be worked through and even at times the brain can be retrained to respond differently away from the disorder or illness but there are also some mental illnesses which cannot be cured. I don't promise cures or complete healing. I am sick of reading so called experts who write articles about how you can reduce depression through exercise and diet. Sure, exercise and diet might help produce different hormones and chemistry which can improve symptoms for a while but states like depression are an illness and until the brain can rewire away from the cause or triggers to be free of the symptoms, it will not be ‘cured’ through going to the gym or not eating diary.
All mental illness requires two things to manage state for a functional life in society. The desire to change the status quo and the openness to create an honest relationship with their therapist. There were two studies done, ten years apart on the efficacy of different therapies and types of therapists and sadly it was proved that tarot card readings (cold readings) had the same success rates as CBT, Freudian therapy, Jungian therapy and even Hypnotherapy in the long run. Some therapies took much longer than others - like CBT but the winning ingredient was the trust in the therapist/card reader/shaman the patient/client had formed. The answer is therefore, do your research before you go to your therapist. Look them up. The internet has a wealth of information. Don't stay with a therapist if you don't gel with them. You won’t get the results you want if you feel you have to see a specific therapist as opposed to want to. You won’t get better or make the progress you need to live in society. But on the other hand, don't doctor shop over and over again looking for the reason why no one can help you - that’s victim talk.
And that’s the closest I get to talking about mental illness even though it’s my business. The stigma is still here and although I should probably be shouting it out to the world, I’ll keep my private life as a resource for silent understanding.
My advice is this - don’t talk about it or talk about it. The only way you will manage it is to not be a victim of it and understand that it’s like breaking a leg or having a long term illness. There are different steps you can take to overcome the situation and do a form of rehab to improve back to functional life or there are strategies you can employ to live with a state of play. Be positive and do your best to work through your situation as logically and honestly as you can. Try what resonates with you for therapy and remember to want to change.
And bravo, brothers and sisters out there, I love you all for keeping your heads held high and not giving up.