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Tuesday, March 08, 2005

The Stigma of Mental Illness

I haven't really talked about my depression for a while now. I do accept that I have been diagnosed as clinically depressed; I am just hoping that I can cope for a little while without taking anything for it, and also without therapy. Mostly, the reason is financial, although I do have my doubts about whether my condition really requires medication in the long term. Yet, I am not sure if this is due to me being in denial.

So reading what Iris Chang's family and friends are saying (needs registration. If you don't wish to bother with that, go here for a similar account), is making me think twice.

By the way, you might remember that when I found out that Iris was found dead from an apparent self-inflicted gun shot wound, I was deeply saddened and shocked. Such promising young talent gone so suddenly. I really admired Iris' internationally acclaimed work, The Rape of Nanking: The Forgotten Holocaust of World War II and really looked forward to more hard-nosed historically significant works from her. Her other works include The Chinese in America: A Narrative History and Thread of the Silkworm and she was working on yet another historical work when she died.

Anyway, I was saying that reading the words of her family and friends is causing my doubts to resurface about my own situation. Iris Chang apparently took her own life because she was ashamed of her mental illness. Her family spoke at a fund raiser over the weekend for a nonprofit that works to help Chinese Americans be more aware of mental illness.
They described Chang's shame after she suffered a breakdown and was diagnosed with "brief reactive psychosis" and possibly bipolar disorder. They said she asked them not to reveal her condition, and resisted taking medication.

"What's so powerful about the stigma of mental illness that someone would want to take the knowledge of their illness to the grave with them?" her brother, Michael Chang, said Sunday.
Reading their anguished "what-ifs" have opened my eyes to my own feelings about my depression, and bringing up more questions than answers.

Although diagnosed with "borderline bipolar disorder" I am thinking perhaps it is due to life circumstances, both past and present. Although I accept that I may have chemical imbalance in the brain, I am hoping that this is caused by my having to deal with life circumstances which have caused both the depression and the chemical imbalance.

Recently my Daughter #1 went to see the Doctor at her college, and after examining her for her flu symptoms and speaking with her, they made her take an evaluation for Depression and confirmed that she is mildly depressed as well. We talked about it and agreed that for now she should not take any medication for it.

Now I wonder if we are plain being reckless.

As Ying Ying Chang, Iris' mom says,
"... mental illness is a disease, a chemical imbalance in the brain. We should treat it just like a heart attack or diabetes."
Yet I struggle with whether that is just one aspect of the problem.

Depression may have other causes as well, as I mentioned above, such as having to cope with different events. There might also be spiritual causes to mental illness. If so, Christians who are diagnosed as depressants might feel that this is a sign of spiritual weakness and spiritual defeat.

Perhaps then, that is the double entendrewhammy for Asian Christians. Mental illness is not only humiliating for us from cultural influences but feelings of guilt and shame are attached to it since it is seen as a spiritual problem.

So, what about me? Do I feel that there is a stigma to my depression? Do I feel shame? Guilt? Humiliation?

Am I blindly rejecting my own proper treatment by ignoring my psychiatric therapy and medication?

Will prayer, meditation, and the support of my family and friends be sufficient?