I witnessed stigma in the making today.


Today I had the opportunity to attend a lunch n’ learn on bipolar disorder.  The gentleman presenting was a clinical psychologist who I have known from being on a working group together.  He is a very nice man.  However, today I witnessed one of the things that contribute to the stigma of mental illness in an astounding way.

His talk started out very informative about bipolar disorder signs and symptoms.  He explained really well about mania, depression and everything in between.  But then the whole talk took a downward turn.  He started sharing six stories about people he had involuntarily committed.  If the story had been told from a factual standpoint on how people with bipolar disorder can put themselves at risk, I would have been fine with it.  Except the stories told were laughed at and even the audience laughed as well.  At one point a YouTube Video was shown of a man who said he was experiencing a manic episode.  It was over the top.

I guess you had to be there to really understand my perspective.  I did not want to be rude and get up and leave, so I sat through a very painful hour of stigmatizing people with mental illness as crazy, looney and psycho with no hope for recovery.  At one point I considered raising my hand and saying, “I am one of those bipolar type I patients who have recovered.  What can you say about me?”  I decided against that strategy.

What I did do is tell the organizer who joked about having a manic episode based on all the criteria he just learned that the talk needed to be more balanced.  Yes there are people with bipolar disorder who run naked in neighborhoods.  Yes there are people with bipolar disorder who are homeless.  But there is also another side.  These people are someone’s wife, husband, friend, daughter, son, brother, sister etc.  .

Rather than embarrass the speaker I decided to have a private conversation with him at the end.  I said to him, “I have bipolar disorder type I.  Did you know that?”  “No I didn’t know that,” he said rather surprised.  And then I said, “I have my own sensational stories.  But I am also an Olympian, have a master’s degree and have worked in Corporate America for many years.  And by the way, people do recover.”

I think he was shocked that I said that to him.  Of course I was very diplomatic, but it really struck a cord with me.  I will have the opportunity to speak with this audience in March.  I plan to spend a great deal of time talking about stigma.  I hope what I say will help repair some of the damage that was done today.

4 thoughts on “I witnessed stigma in the making today.

  1. I’m so sorry you had to sit through that. I commend you for not losing your cool. I think you handled it very well when you spoke to him at the end. What irks me is he’s a psychologist and he made fun of those people and their situations. You would think he would know better. But then again, all those letters tacked on to someone’s name–all those degrees, doesn’t mean a person has common sense, true understanding or compassion. They just know the clinical facts, cut and dry. I’m sure not all psychologists and psychiatrists are as unfeeling as he was. He should of at least talked about working towards recovery. Is it possible he doesn’t know that a person can recover or at least work at getting better? Talk like his not only stigmatizes us, but it strips us of dignity in the eyes of others. What a shame. And good for you that you are going to address that. Way to go, Amy!

    1. Thank you. I really was offended today and it takes a lot to offend me. I sat there thinking “what kind of a message does this send to young people in the audience.” I concluded not a good one.

  2. Any practicing clinical psychologists that behaves that during a professional speaking engagement needs to be opposed publicly. I hope someone will expose him. 

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