The Stigma  

Graham Brown,  December, 2002

Every city has the same.  The names change but the idea never does!  Sydney has Callan Park, Brisbane has Wollstone Park.  My hometown in England had a place called Menstone near by.

What they all had in common was that they are, or were, facilities for those suffering from mental illness.  They all were used as bogey men to scare young and old that if they did not behave or acted strangely, someone would come and take them away to these monstrous places - never to be seen again!

I’m sure that all of you who may read this article will know of some place near you with a similar reputation or used in a similar manner.  When I was a child the word ‘Menstone’ evoked thoughts of horror.  Of people so violent and bad, that they had to be shut away to protect the rest of us.

Visions of the old original mental ‘hospital’, Bedlam flashed through my mind as my family always used hushed tones when the word Menstone was used and even more hushed tones at the thought that any of our family would ever be in one of ‘those places’.

My mother was absolutely horrified and disgusted when a doctor suggested to her that she suffered from depression.  Imagine that!  How dare he say she was ‘mental’, or even think that she had some sort of horrible illness that they used to put people away for!

The stigma attached to depression or any form of mental illness was so deeply ingrained in my mother, that it took some considerable time and a wily doctor who finally got her to agree to take medication, but only on the grounds that it was to help her regain her appetite.  She absolutely would not take them under any other circumstances and of course never agreed to any other therapy that may have led to further psychiatric diagnosis.

You see - my mother really suffered from bipolar disorder, as I do, but where I am on the right medication and have an excellent psychiatrist that I see for therapy.  My mother was denied that and the opportunity for a more stable and maybe enjoyable life because of the ingrained stigma of a mental illness.

Although it is better now and there are a number of excellent programs to promote mental health in a positive light.  How many people are still denied diagnosis and good treatment because they fear what people may say or that they will lose their jobs, friends and even family.  How many of us (me included) who suffer from mental illness, have missed opportunities to show that we are just like other people.  We just have a chronic illness that requires long-term treatment no different from say diabetes or other long-term illnesses.  A great man once said, “If I am not for myself, who is; and if not now when?

No one will take up the struggle to show society how destructive the stigma attached to mental illness is and how many people it has destroyed unless we who suffer from it are prepared to do so.  Let’s do so and do it now.

Graham Brown

December 2002






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