Attitudes change with a diagnosis of mental health disorder

Attitudes change with a diagnosis of mental health disorder

By Liz Lockhart

Suffering from any mental health disorder has its own challenges, however, there seems to be one common theme which crosses over into all mental health conditions.  This mutually experienced theme is the attitude of others.

Mental Healthy was recently contacted by one of our readers who wanted to share her experiences of a sudden onset of poor mental health.  Stephanie is a 30-something business woman who, last year, was diagnosed with having depression and anxiety disorder.  Her life seemed to change overnight and her world turned upside-down.

Stephanie has a high-powered job, running her own company.  Her strength to continue to work despite feeling ‘downright awful’ is a credit to her.  She says that some days she doesn’t know how to lift her head off the pillow in the morning but finds the incentive from knowing that if she stops working she is afraid that she may never start again.

Stephanie started her mental health problem with what she thought was a physical illness.  She had not been feeling on good form for a few months when, suddenly, whilst at work she had chest pains and dizziness and collapsed at work.  She was rushed to hospital where she was found to be suffering from high blood pressure.  Her own G.P. treated her with total respect and prescribed medication or her hypertension and she hoped that when it started to work she would go back to feeling her old self. 

Unfortunately that did not happen, she started to have panic attacks and it felt as though her world was falling apart.  She returned to her doctor and his attitude towards her changed.  At best he was patronising and treated her like a child, at worst he was rude and impatient.  Why? she wondered.   She was the same person who he had thought to have a heart condition and treated so respectfully.

Stephanie’s partner had initially treated her with concern and care but once diagnosed with a mental health disorder he too changed towards her.  One evening after she had returned home from work and all but collapsed on the sofa he turned to her and said ‘You’re going to have to pull yourself together!  Do you realise that you are making my life a hell?’ 

She wanted to scream but knew it would only make her feel worse, but the thoughts started churning round in her head.  ‘Pull myself together!   If only it were that simple.  You think your life is hell – well you should be living in my world.’ 

Stephanie was put on anti-depressants which took a time to work.  At first she felt worse but over a period of weeks she slowly started to feel less anxious and depressed. She also had talking therapy sessions.  Her relationship ended with most of their friends feeling sorry for her partner but she feels that his lack of understanding showed him in a light that makes her feel better off without him. 

‘I am the same woman that I ever was,’ says Stephanie.  ‘What I cannot accept is that I went from being a respected human being to feeling that I was some kind of nuisance.  I even pulled myself up about feeling like this and wondered if it was my own guilt that made me imagine that I was being treated so differently, particularly by my health-care providers.  No – it was not my imagination.  I have not yet had the courage to admit to my colleagues at work what I am suffering.  I am so afraid that their attitude will also change.’

‘I am not ashamed of my disorder.  I had no more control over ‘contracting’ it than if I had a physical illness.  However, work is the only place that I still feel respected and I do not have the courage to risk that yet.  I hope that one day I will feel free to tell them what has been happening to me.  Unfortunately there needs to be a huge difference in the way people perceive mental health disorders and until then I shall keep it to myself.’

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