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A New Culture of Recovery

There is a stigma against me and my peers, but there is also one against mental health care providers. Common stigmas of me and my peers vary from lazy, possessing a split personality, to mass murderer- ugh! The stigma of health care providers are they abuse patients, treat us all the same, or do not listen to patients' concerns.

However, I view my peers and health care providers totally different. I see my peers living independently or contributing to the household. They seem like peaceful individuals- practicing mindfulness and keeping to themselves- not inflicting pain on anyone or starting a riot. They engage in creative hobbies such as art or poetry, and other activities. My peers not only help themselves but also other peers by offering advice and a listening ear. And they're far from lazy!- a lot of the people I associate with who have a mental illness volunteer. They also work jobs that they take pride in and enjoy, part-time and full-time.

Despite what really goes on in the mental health community, a majority of our society views us differently- why? Why don't they acknowledge us striving to live "normal" lives? How can they overlook the creativity we add to our culture... Is it really fear? Ignorance? or preference in order to have a false sense of seniority? or all that combined?... Sad. Its not sad for us (people directly impacted by mental illness) but sad for them because they are losing out on great relationships, conversations, and understanding of someone with different experiences from them.

A Certified Peer Specialist (CPS) training I attended last week reminded everyone in the room that providers have helped each us in some way to reach recovery. In my experience with the mental health care system, providers like their jobs. They even had discussions with my mother to help her to have a better understanding of what I am going through. They don't talk to me like I am a child. Instead they provide resources to guide me to get the full benefit of recovery with outside supports. In fact, my state hospital doctor told me I could go back to college. My therapist recommended I become a CPS- a peer who acts as a liaison between staff and peers in order to help others in recovery.

Today, I did a presentation with a peer to a group of providers at an Atlanta hospital in the behavior health care unit. They were very interested in our stories and interactive. They came off as very passionate about their jobs and wanting to help patients... So why is there this belief that they are not encouraging or supportive of our recovery?

In my experience from California and Georgia peers are not dangerous or lazy. Don't get me wrong, I know there are peers out there who can fit the stigmatizing description like the isolated few among the general public, but the truth is most don't. And I believe my peers who have had horrible experiences with their provider, but the truth is the mental health system is changing- for the better. It is not like it was centuries ago, or even 30 years ago. Even the language within the mental health field is adopting new standards. For example instead of calling a patient "schizophrenic" or "bipolar" we are saying someone living with (diagnosis)... Nice. I used to use those terms but now I avoid them because I am not my illness I am Ashley living with an illness called schizophrenia.

Stop spreading stigmatizing messages and language- we are in a new era, a new outlook on the culture of recovery, it could only get better with us sticking together like we do online, and I'm loving it!

To learn more about schizophrenia visit Embracing My Mind, NAMI, Choices in Recovery, or Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia (Canada).


This is a really good analysis of the stigma about mental illness. I had not even thought about the stigma about mental health providers, but you're right--I've heard some of that, too.

Educating others is so key to overcoming stigma, and it sounds like you are doing a lot to help!
Anonymous said…
Glad I found your blog. I love your optimism! I understand what you are saying and I believe a huge part of the problem relates to media attention. We only hear about schizophrenia, etc. when there is something violent or negative associated with it. Otherwise it's not news. Also, with mental health professionals, people tend to speak out when they've been wronged; not so much when things are going smoothly. So let's keep accentuating the positive so that everyone gets the "real story!"
Ashley Smith said…
Hi Tina Fariss Barbour-
Thank you, its nice to know I helping to reduce stimga!

I am glad we are in agreeement that the "real story" has been neglected and needs to be told!
brilliant post! we def must reduce the stigma!!
The Blue Morpho said…
I like the emphasis you put on changing our language - the way we talk about our mental illnesses, and how we name ourselves. Words are so powerful, and using more positive language is something we all can do.
Adventures in Anxiety Land
Ashley Smith said…
Real College Student of Atlanta-
Thank you!

The Blue Morpho-
I learned about the language from a support group my therapist leads a long time ago.
Lost in Space said…
Everything that can be done to reduce the stigma that unfortunately surrounds mental health diagnoses has to be positive. Your blog is really interesting.
Gerald Bouthner said…
As a fellow mental illness sufferer I am glad to see your active association with the mental health care of patients.

I am equally as glad to see that your path as a patient and mental health employee has crossed not only competent, but also caring mental health professionals.

I would like to believe that the majority of mental healthcare professionals are performing their entrusted duties with care and professionalism.

But as in any profession there are often bad apples that exist in the mental health care profession. Not all are as caring or professional, and hopefully these weak links can be strengthened.

I know you will do your part. ;0

Ashley, I enjoyed your posting.

Ashley Smith said…
Hi Lost in space,

Thank you for reading my blog, I am glad you found it interesting- please come back and let me know what you think about diverse topics I discuss. Thank you.

Ashley Smith
Ashley Smith said…
Gerald Bouthner,

I love hearing from peers living with mental illness.

I am glad we are in agreement that sometimes there are "bad apples" but they just need to be "strengthened."

Thank you for believing in me- to help strengthen a professional, caring mental health system!!

Ashley Smith
Anonymous said…
One of the most amazing things to me is stigma within one's own family. I was called a lot of names and told that I had "believed a lie that the doctor's told me." I was also expected to snap back to normal quickly and get back to work. Two family members were especially harsh with me.

People seem to settle for things they make up in their heads and stuff they have heard in the media or skimmed in an article. My biggest support have been my close friends, one family member and my mental health team.

I have been schizoaffective with paranoia and PTSD for over 20 years. I have learned a lot over the years of how to listen to my body, to observe my moods and thoughts and to take care of myself physically and metally.

I am grateful for my supporters and for people like you, who are working to knock out the stigma and educate people. Thank you!

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