I've been thinking about the stigma of mental illness the past couple of days. It's something we talk to our clients about when do data collection and statistics (do you feel stigmatized in the community) but I've never really though of it in my own context. Up until yesterday, I had never felt stigmatized, or at least never identified any feelings as being feelings of stigma. However, the reason I have never felt stigmatized is because I don't exactly talk about my mental illness on a regular basis. My anxiety has always been a fairly private thing for me. Although people I am close to know that it is something I deal with and that I take medications for it and have gone to counselling, it's not something I talk about as being currently present in my life on a regular basis. Although, for the most part, it's under control, so maybe that is a part of it. In any case, it's not something I talk about with my coworkers or acquaintances, thus, no stigma.
That brings me to now. And why I've suddenly become more awakened to the realities of stigma and mental illness. I recently bought a house (it's all mine in only 45 days!!!) When I signed my mortgage at the bank, I applied for mortgage insurance - life, health crisis, and disability. Two different companies underwrite the policies and I had to have a very in-depth phone interview with each of them. They asked me about each and every little thing that could possibly be wrong with me, plus about my family history of things. Now, because I have asthma and have a family history of cancer and heart disease I figured I would not qualify, oh, and I'm overweight. However, it never even occurred to me that I would get a letter stating you do not qualify for our insurance because of your history of anxiety.
I was angry. Very angry. I have NEVER let my anxiety get in the way of me doing what I need to do. Never missed a day of work, never missed a day of school, I've never been hospitalized, or been to the hospital because of my anxiety. But there it was, in black letters telling me that I didn't qualify for something because I was mentally ill. I'd never put that in the context of my self before. Never let the anxiety stop me from something. I'm having to integrate this into my understanding of self, that because of the anxiety, there are some things that I simply cannot have. And I don't like it.
Having this experience though, I hope, will help me grow. I happened to see my counsellor yesterday and she reminded me that TONS of people go on disability for stress related illness and so it kind of made sense that a history of anxiety would disqualify me from disability insurance (I still haven't got the results back on the life insurance). I am reminded, that for my clients, who have mental illness which affects their ability to work, there may often be much more of a stigma. It reminds me to, that I really do need to pay more attention to opportunities to fight stigma and be involved in more public education both on a small and a large level. I also need to decide if I want to appeal this decision, or make a bigger issue out of it, or just be passive, accept the decision and move on from here.