You may wonder why I have come out to talk about my diagnosis of PTSD openly. Today is one of those days that illustrates one reason why.
Unfortunately, it is another day when gun violence comes back into the national consciousness as James Hodgkinson shot GOP Representative Steve Scalise and others at a congressional baseball practice.
This tragedy, like so many before (Sandy Hook 2012, Emanuel African Methodist Episcopal Church 2015, Pulse Nightclub 2016) renews debates from Facebook to CNN. Who has access to guns, how, and why?
Unfortunately, it is also in the midst of these debates that our country inevitably dips into the issue of mental illness.
It is not the imagination of those of us with a mental health condition that these issues - violence and mental illness - become conflated. Consider this article about former President Obama's proposal to curb gun violence through promoting Mental Health First Aid, a program in which I am a trainer. Although he is progressive and the proposal is well-intentioned, the proposal explicitly makes the link between people who have a mental health condition and violence. However, people with mental illness are no more likely to be violent than anyone else, and people living with mental health conditions are TEN TIMES more likely to be a victim of violent crime than the general population.
And yet, in the face of these tragedies, words like "crazed" are thrown around easily to describe perpetrators.
In our national consciousness - and unfortunately on Facebook posts - those who are responsible for these tragedies are called the "Poster Children for Mental Illness."
But what about the majority of people who have a mental health condition that are not violent? There's Dr. Kay Redfield Jamison who has bipolar illness and has spent her life addressing mental illness stigma as a medical professor of psychiatry. There's Dr. Clayton Chau, who is a psychiatrist, refugee, person living with PTSD and a suicide survivor.
And then there's me. Yes me. Someone you know. In my involvement with my peers with mental health conditions, I can say without hesitation our lives are filled with loss - loss of opportunities, loss of relationships, loss of financial stability, loss of confidence and self-esteem. One of the reasons for the loss is the pervasive stigma that follows us, even within the mental health community. We constantly confront assumptions about our abilities and our character.
My road to recovery has not been straight. At times, I have felt like I was barely hanging on, even with my advantages. I have watched people celebrated who confront physical challenges (and I celebrate them too!), but its while my diagnosis is conflated with violence.
So, I will keep talking about my recovery with PTSD . . . Until a girl with a PhD degree - and all others like me - are considered "Poster Children of Mental Illness."