Facing Stigma as a Person with Schizophrenia

I was diagnosed with schizophrenia ten years ago. In that time, I’ve been able to stabilize mostly and regain a sense of self that was all but lost in the first few years I was sick.

As a writer, the next challenge is always, “What should I write about?” and to say the least, schizophrenia has given me so much to put on the page.

There are so many different challenges and facets that someone with schizophrenia experiences that to cover everything I’d have to fill a library.

I won’t lie that the illness is also a blessing though, writing about my experiences has gotten me bylines in some of the most prestigious publications out there and it’s provided a basis for self sufficiency.

It’s fair to say that at this point, the illness doesn’t really bother me.

There’s one facet of living with a mental illness that never goes away though, or won’t until the general public is at least a bit more educated about what it’s like to live this way.

That facet is the stigma each and every one of us who are sick faces in society.

It’s been said time and again that the media perpetuates this stigma and that’s because it’s the truth.

When was the last time there was a major tragedy in this country where the stability of the mental health of the perpetrator wasn’t called into question?

The fact that that stability is even brought up is an unfortunate consequence of the never ending news cycle as the media looks for any story imaginable to try to explain the reasoning behind the tragedy.

Sadly, many times the mental health of the perpetrator is, in fact, suspect though, and that only fuels the stigma.

The overwhelming truth is that those with a major mental illness are much more likely to be victims of violent crime rather than perpetrators.

Maybe if the media spent more time focusing on some of the intensely creative and sensitive lives that people with mental illness live, things would be better. Sadly the media hasn’t yet done that.

I see it everyday of my life when I have to tell people what I do for a living. I tell them I write, they ask me what I write about, I tell them I write about mental health and then comes the inevitable question, why? If I choose to tell them I live with schizophrenia their eyebrows raise and the next thing out of their mouth, if they are not speechless is “Wow.” Or “But you seem so normal.”

I can remember a date I went on where the topic came up and the girl asked me outright if I had ever killed anybody.

The truth is, stigma is out there. It has the potential to pop up anytime the subject is broached and when there is a mass shooting almost every week in this country the subject is broached quite a lot.

I’d be lying if I said it didn’t bother me but at this point, I’ve come to expect that if I go there, I may get a reaction that isn’t what I hoped for.

As I said earlier, I think the only thing that can change the thinking behind mental illness for anyone who has no experience with it is education.

That’s one of the reasons I write about it for a living.

Hopefully through my words and my experience, the reality that we suffer with this will be more widely known.

In my case I share so much about mental illness with my friends family and followers that at this point, it’s become kind of old and I hope that’s a good thing.

I hope that if any of the hundreds of people I interact with regularly ever come across an instance of mental illness they’ll think, “Oh, my friend Mike has schizophrenia, he’s a great guy.” Then they won’t be so hesitant about the situation.

We are normal people, as far as the word normal takes us, we just have a little trouble with our thoughts.

It’s an illness as far as cancer or diabetes is an illness but until the media finds something else to speculate about the stigma will be present. It’s a shame, but just remember that there are people out there like your friends, your family and organizations like Bring Change to Mind that understand.

The truth is, you’re not without friends.

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