Why Does Mental Illness Still Have Stigma?


While I was getting changed after a workout at the local YMCA, a familiar face got my attention.

While I was getting changed after a workout at the local YMCA, a familiar face got my attention.

"Who do you see for that thing?" he asked.

"I'm sorry. What thing?" I replied, feeling like I was going to meet Tony Soprano under a bridge with a lot of weight in the trunk of my '72 Fleetwood Brougham.

"You know, that 'head thing.'"

I did the quick math and realized he was talking about my bipolar disorder. I had forgotten that we had a conversation a week or so before when he was shopping around for a psychiatrist.

This gentleman came from an age when the mentally ill were carted off and shuttered away to hopefully be forgotten about. Bipolar patients were treated only with lithium, and it either worked or it didn't.

I'm incredibly glad that I live in an age when my imbalance can be treated with no side effects (after an adjustment period, but that was years ago) and allow me to be a highly productive member of society.

Merely thinking about what happened to The Beach Boys' Brian Wilson, who lost decades of quality life because of a misdiagnosed mental illness, makes me mist up. Unlike him, I got the right help at the right time in my life.

I'm not going to lie: at the height of my mania (bordering on psychosis), I was a disaster. I blew through money and chemicals like I had it to burn. I would call friends up to say hello, and in turn, they all called my wife to tell her, out of pure regard for my life, that something was wrong with me.

Once I was hospitalized, it took 3 days of a hard drug cocktail to knock the demons out of me. I'm convinced that if it didn't work, they were going to try bloodletting and an exorcism.

With a good drug regimen and the love and patience of an amazing wife, I am where I am today. It is a good place to be. I talk about my bipolar disorder like it's a case of "the sugar," because it helps people.

When a recently diagnosed patient of mine came in with a hospital discharge for a new bipolar regimen, he was obviously shaken up and scared. I let him know that we were cut from the same cloth and that he was on the right road.

In this modern age, nobody should have to hide or feel shamed about a neurochemical imbalance. I should be able to be asked about a mental illness by its name, not "that thing."

Unfortunately, such is not the case.

Jay Sochoka, RPh, wears it like a badge.

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