Stigma

This is not your typical Welcome2TheBronx post.

It is a post that I hope will help my fellow Bronxites come to terms with the fact that IT’S OK TO SEEK HELP if you’re suffering from mental health issues.

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It is my coming out story, if you will, with my battle against anxiety and panic disorder.

So it’s been almost two years since I began what I thought was going to be an an easy process.

Two years ago I decided to begin weaning myself off paxil for anxiety which I first encountered when my grandmother passed away in 2007.

Before then I never had an episode except several times after 9/11 but I didn’t know what I was experiencing back then.

It wasn’t until her passing that they hit me wave after wave to the point that I could no longer function at the office and had to get on treatment.

Eventually they subsided with maybe an episode a year If that.

In 5 years I gained 60 lbs, slowly creeping on me and slowly killing me with super high blood pressure to the point I had to go on 3 medications to regulate it.

2013 was the year it dawned on me why I had gained so much weight and decided to get off of paxil. It was a very hard decision because that meant that anxiety and panic could hit at any moment.

From July to the first week in September of that year I lowered my dose weekly until I was down to almost zilch. (something you MUST do under the supervision of a mental health provider).

That’s when all hell broke loose and I began getting palpitations, things I couldn’t explain, waking up in panics in the middle of the night and ended up sleeping at my parents each night from September through December until I finally settled in with a therapist.

The Mayo Clinic defines mental illness as:

“Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions — disorders that affect your mood, thinking and behavior. Examples of mental illness include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, eating disorders and addictive behaviors.

Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function.

A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at work or in relationships. In most cases, symptoms can be managed with a combination of medications and counseling (psychotherapy).”

But what happens when you live in The Bronx where there are 10x fewer psychiatrists than Manhattan as New York City First Lady Chirlane McCray pointed out in an op-ed piece in Psychology Today.

McCray writes:

“According to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, in 2012 there were 1,952 psychiatrists in New York City.

When you dig deeper into the data and compare the city’s five boroughs, it won’t come as a surprise that Manhattan is home to the most psychiatrists, with a total of 1,270. Coincidentally, that divides out to approximately one psychiatrist for every 1,270 Manhattan residents.

But what if you live in the Bronx, the poorest county in New York State? The numbers are much different, with approximately one psychiatrist for every 13,100 Bronx residents. In other words, there are 10 times fewer psychiatrists in the Bronx than in Manhattan. And the numbers for other health professionals, psychologists and therapists, are similar.

Sadly, this local example illustrates a broader and troubling reality: The supply of mental health services doesn’t even begin to meet the overwhelming demand, especially in our highest-need communities.”

That became a huge problem for me when I began my search for care in The Bronx for you see, I’m a big proponent of doing things local and basic necessities shouldn’t have to be an obstacle course.

Eventually, I found a perfect match for me within walking distance from my apartment.

It was there that I began seeking and trying to comprehend the source of the anxiety which I never felt before.

I had dramatically lost almost all the weight I had gained and my blood pressure was at levels I hadn’t seen in years.

In order to combat the night terrors I was given klonopin to help me as needed.

In the beginning I used it pretty much each day but as 2014 progressed, I was down to using it every 4 to 5 days maybe even 10 days on a lucky streak.

I was finally seeing progress in the long journey of weaning. Then in March of this year  I relapsed again.

I am not ashamed to say this. I accept my relapse and embrace it for what it is: something that happens and I must get through and try and be as strong as possible but at the same time I have to learn not to be ashamed or afraid to ask for help beyond my therapist.

Mental health issues, from minor to major are still a big stigma in our communities but even bigger in communities of color. This is largely because it is seen as a “white person’s” disease or affliction being that the face of mental illness is white in America.

People easily will dismiss you as weak or just crazy so taking those weekly walks to your therapist and walking into that building is a chore and a stress unto itself because you feel like you’re being judged.

The Huffington Post wrote recently:

“Despite the obvious need for increased attention and care, mental illness continues to carry a stigma.

If you do not believe me, here are some facts about the stigma associated with mental illness:

Fact #1) While 1 in 5 Americans live with a mental disorder, estimates indicate that nearly two-thirds of all people with a diagnosable mental illness do not seek treatment.

Fact #2) Twenty to 25 percent of the homeless population in the United States suffers from some form of severe mental illness. Stigma leads to fear, mistrust, and violence against people living with mental illness and their families and causes family and friends to turn their backs on people with mental illness.

Fact #3) Between 25 percent and 40 percent of all Americans with mental illness will at some point pass through the criminal justice system. Stigma leads to prejudice and discrimination and poor treatment of those with mental illness.”

Not only do we need improved access to mental health care professionals in our very own borough but we also need to come out of our mental health closets and be OK and know that we can get help even if it’s limited.

Your support network doesn’t end at your therapist’s office either.

A strong, supportive network of friends and family is critical during this healing process and if you do come out and learn that it’s nothing to be ashamed about they will most likely try to empathize and offer the support you need as best as they can give it.

When I came out to a smaller audience, my load became lighter.

I was free from the stigma because I refused to let it stigmatize me.

Know that you are not alone in these battles and that there are resources out there.

I am writing this in order to help others out there seek the help they need and to know that you aren’t alone.

I am writing this right now as I am going through a severe panic/anxiety attack in the hopes that others know they aren’t alone and seek help.

Let’s end this stigma on mental health and let’s fight for better access to mental health care access in our communities especially those at risk and need.


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Bronx Resources: (PLEASE NOTE: The following places have not been fully vetted by Welcome2TheBronx but are resources found on the web. We are providing them to you as an easy guide to find a place nearest you or one that may fill your needs.)

 

 

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