A stereotype is a widely held but fixed and oversimplified image or idea of a particular type of person or thing. By definition, this makes stereotype the perfect word companion to mental illness. For the most part, society believes people diagnosed with mental illness can be chalked up to "crazy." And, why wouldn't society feel that way? Studies show that both entertainment and news media provide overwhelmingly dramatic and distorted mental illness images that emphasize dangerousness, criminality, and unpredictability. This leaves those affected by mental illness marginalized and discriminated against in various ways.

Unfortunately, these ideals and stereotypes contribute to the public stigma of mental health and self-stigma. Self-stigma is relatable to me. Like the general society, I have seen television shows and movies featuring those with mental illness. I could relate with the behavior portrayed in some instances, but I was mainly terrified by the extremity of actions from someone diagnosed as mentally ill.

Specifically, my favorite television show “Law & Order,” had multiple episodes dealing with the mentally ill. There is one, in particular, I can't seem to forget. Season two, episode six, was the story of a patient rights controversy that comes to light when a schizophrenic man refuses to take his medication and becomes a suspect in a psychiatric doctoral student's stabbing death. Knowing deep down I had my undiagnosed mental illness, that episode terrified me. When medicated for schizophrenia, the “Law and Order” character was at the top of his game, a brilliant member of society, clean and well dressed, and seemed to be what most considered "normal." But, if the character stopped taking his medicine, his world fell apart. He ended up homeless and filthy like each time before and, in this episode, ultimately a killer. When the detectives interviewed the schizophrenic man's sister, it only contributed to the negative self-stigma. The sister was emphathetic and defensive of her brother. Ultimately, regardless of how much she loved him, it was as if she couldn't be bothered again with this horrible situation fate had dealt not only to her brother but her by default.
Through media and the internet, I had self-diagnosed myself as bi-polar in my early twenties. However, my symptoms were milder than I saw on television, so was I even bi-polar?

My twenties' self-stigmas contributed to me not seeking help and included these factors: •No one wanted to have two of the primary mental health diagnoses, schizophrenia, and bi-polar disorder. Frankly, most media and news outlets defined them as entailing the worst of the worst behaviors. I mean, I viewed these as encompassing your "craziest of crazed" people. I believed schizophrenia was a condition where the "people in your head" told you to do something terrible, and you acted upon it. bi-polar, to me, was volatile and could go from zero to sixty in a second without any in-between. Self-stigma left me to wonder if I received an official diagnosis of bi-polar disorder, would this automatically qualify me as someone who could potentially be dangerous to the point of murder? Some other reasons I didn’t want to be diagnosed were:

•I didn't want to lose who I was. bi-polar is often betrayed as there is only one alternative to being "crazy," which is being heavily medicated and a walking zombie.

•Another major drawback for me was feedback from family and friends who negatively talked about mental illness to no fault of their own. How could they possibly understand what I was feeling with no knowledge of my mental state? Growing up, I often heard, "Mental Illness isn't real. People just need to learn how to cope with their problems better," or "mental illness is just a way for pharmaceutical companies to profit." Some of the people closest to me used my behavior to invalidate my feelings when it benefitted them, saying things like, "You are only acting like this because you are nuts." Ouch, that hit me like a ton of bricks. Even the people that loved me knew I wasn't right.

•Lastly, potentially the worst feeling is being diagnosed as different, not normal, sick without the typical physical symptoms, and officially "mental." And with a diagnosis, there is no hiding it. Where did my self-stigmas leave me? Twenty-three years of feeling alone, stuck, ashamed, depressed, angry, irritable. Other times manic, talkative, confident, energetic to the point I won't sit down to eat my dinner because I want to utilize all of my time, engaging in risky behavior with significant life-changing consequences, to name a few. It has been an emotional roller coaster that I know my family has never wanted me to experience, but because of the stigmas, I didn't seek help until I felt like I could no longer bear the struggle. I needed an end in sight to keep going on with my life. Thankfully I saw an end in the acceptance; I needed help. Many, though, see their end in sight is suicide. I often wonder, without help would that have eventually become my end in sight too?

Next week we will hear from a mother that personally experienced a loved one with a diagnosed mental illness who lost the battle in 2020 to suicide.