Mental Illness – Speaking At Stigma

by Joshua Hoe

End Stigma Now Meme created by Joshua Hoe

The other day I was on Twitter and someone mentioned the need for more men to speak up about their experiences with the stigma unique to men’s experience with mental illness.

So here are a few stories from my own experiences around mental illness and stigma or poor care:

1. Being Male with Panic Disorder

I have panic disorder and throughout my life have experienced debilitating panic attacks.

When I was younger, I had to teach myself to project the image that nothing at all was wrong while I was having a panic attack because:

* Guys are not supposed to show weakness or emotion – shaking like a leaf in a storm while sweating and looking like you might collapse at any moment is mostly a great way to be teased for the rest of your life.

* Nobody believed panic attacks were real. People still react to people having panic attacks as if they are something imaginary, a phantom a weak person uses because they cannot “handle” stress (unspoken like a “normal” person).

* Even medical personnel generally did not believe panic disorder was a real thing. My panic disorder was not even diagnosed until I was an adult and I had been suffering from them most of my life.

Luckily, I have been taught better coping mechanisms, and now, I deal with my attacks much more productively. But, the sheer effort of trying to project normality while surviving panic attacks used to exhaust me so much that I would pass out for days sometimes.

2. Seeing how the mentally ill are treated in America’s Jails and Prisons from the inside

If you have read my bio, or my book, or my posts, you know I went to prison.

When I was first arrested, I had never been to jail or prison before in my whole life. So, everything was a learning experience for me.

When I first arrived, they asked me a set of questions. One of those questions was:

“Are you feeling depressed.”

I thought about it and decided that it would be pretty unbelievable to say I was feeling great after just being arrested for the first time in my life, so, I responded:

“Yes, a little”

Big mistake!

Next thing I knew I was in a green protective suit and put on the suicide watch block (glass on all four sides of the cells so you were on 24 hour surveillance, lights on at all times, and 23 hour lock down).

But this is not about me.

I was there for about a day and a half. They kept the rooms very cold and all you had was your green outfit and a blanket (no books, no writing materials, and no television – just a white and glass room).

After a day I was interviewed by a psychologist and told I would be moved out to first the psych block and then to a normal block (everything in jail and prison takes a long time to process).

So, I was moved to the psych block.

The first day, I was kept in a tiny cell for 23 hours with a bunkmate who was so drugged up he never said one word in the entire 23 hours. The people who were truly disturbed and/or on serious anti-psychotics were kept in these cells.

The second say I was moved to the socialized psych floor, lockdown was only about 8 hours a day. As long as you did not cause problems, you were allowed to socialize and play cards.

Shockingly, I found out that the inmates allowed to socialize were not allowed to talk to or even get close to the inmates who were locked down for 23 hours a day.

I also learned that many of those inmates that were locked down 23 hours a day had been kept in those cells for well-over 12 months.

Many of them were managed by giving them dosages that caused them to essentially sleep away their time in a narcotic stupor.

The next day I was moved to a regular block.

After around a month after I was moved into the “normal” population I saw the psychologist I had met in the psych section.

I asked her, “how does keeping someone suffering from serious mental problems locked down 23 hours a day help their mental condition?”

Her response has stuck with me ever since, she said:

“It’s not optimal”

When I finally got processed to prison, I could see that the treatment of the mentally ill was about the same as in jail.

Most memorably, I remember seeing a man from the psych unit standing on the yard, unkempt and clearly unhinged, mumbling partial sentences through his drugs.

I remember noticing he had one shoe, and no socks, barely functioning on a prison yard in early winter.

I have never felt so ashamed to be a member of the human race.

Many of you know that mental institutions were found so corrupt in the 1970’s that most of them were shut down. Unfortunately, there was no plan of what to replace mental institutions with.

Instead, jails and prisons have become America’s default mental institutions.

Out of sight out of mind.

Except, I saw them.

And now, I cannot erase the memory. I am ashamed and we should all be ashamed.

Hard to take any of the nonsense about us being a great nation seriously when we take many of the people who need help more than anyone else and punish and traumatize and drug them to the gills.

Why? Because nobody wants to deal with the problem of treatment.

I try to write mostly positive things on this blog, sorry to end this in such a dark place.

One thing that learning about addiction has taught me is that sharing is really important.

I wanted to get these experiences out in the open.

Thanks for letting me share.

I hope you are having a happy and sober Wednesday!

Have you had similar experiences? Would you like to share your experiences? Please feel free to comment, I would love to hear from you!

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