Mental Health Unawareness Week

On Thursday, I went to a local College’s mental health awareness week with a colleague. I believe it was the first mental health awareness week the College has ever had to I was eager to see what the results would be. The schedule looked great, but there could have been some improvements to the event which I detailed in a feedback email.

Anyways, I want to tell you about a particular incident I encountered that has me concerned. My colleague and I were called over to a table to decorate a free cookie OR do a mental health awareness crossword (yes…I found the trade off interesting). We sat down to do the crossword and I was stumped by some of the questions because they didn’t match up with the terminology or experiences I was familiar. I came to one clue that said, “Grandiosity is a symptom of what illness?” I knew that schizophrenia could have delusions of grandeur, but the answer was only 5 letters long so I asked for a clue. I told the volunteers (who were students of the College) that it’s not schizophrenia so I’m not sure what the answer it. One of the volunteers proceeded to explain schizophrenia to me as, “Someone who has multiple personalities and does crazy things.”  My colleague and I looked at this volunteer briefly, in shock at her explanation of schizophrenia, before explaining to her what schizophrenia and dissociative identity disorder are. One of her fellow volunteers also explained that words like “crazy” shouldn’t be used to describe people as they are offensive and hurtful. This misinformed volunteer also went on to say that the majority of homeless people have schizophrenia which is not an accurate statement. Needless to say, I walked away from the event fairly put off.

It pained me greatly that someone wearing a “Mental Health Awareness Week Volunteer” name tag could unknowingly spread misinformation to students and visitors. If I and my colleague did not know about schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder then the above misinformation is what we would have walked away with. It scares me to think about how many students heard this misinformation and potentially how many students who experience schizophrenia or dissociative identity disorder were told this. To then throw in the word “crazy” is the cherry on top. I recommended volunteer training for next year as a mental health awareness week cannot include harmful misinformation.

Oh, by the way, the answer to the question was “mania”. From my understanding mania is NOT an illness but a symptom of a disorder, commonly Bipolar Disorder. Also, I have been told that mania feels more like a high. You don’t necessary think you’re hot shit when you’re manic (and grandiosity means having an unrealistic sense of superiority) you just feel like you can do everything and anything, no need for sleep, food, breaks. You just go. (Correct me if I’m wrong, please).

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29 thoughts on “Mental Health Unawareness Week

  1. I can understand a person on the street with lack of information, but at a mental health seminar of any kind; the people volunteering should at the very LEAST, have some PC training! Hopefully what you say will have some power for change.
    Not long ago, i went to a DID convention and one of the psychiatrists said, “you look normal to me”. WTF does THAT mean? He of all people should know how to talk to people.
    I didn’t know how to respond at that time, but since have thought a lot about it. I still do not know exactly what I would say, but I am sure I will have something 🙂

    The things people say without even knowing they are harming others is common, I know I have done it in the past as well. I am not making an excuse for others behavior, but i can see it.

    Maybe I am wrong, but I think lack of awareness is most of the problem. Thank you for spreading awareness around!

  2. Mania is a bit more complex than that. It can involve a high, but not always and not for everyone. Often the primary mood is irritability, including aggressive behavior in response to things one might otherwise just find mildly annoying. One might feel tired but not be able to sleep because of racing thoughts and/or tense energy, or feel like if one stops being hyperactive one will just collapse. This article about mood disorders describes it better than I can: http://m.huffpost.com/us/entry/5823138

  3. You’re right about mania being a symptom of bipolar. It actually took me almost to the end of your piece to figure mania, I kept trying to fit “bipolar” into five letters! Because you are also right that mania is not an illness in and of itself. There is no diagnostic code for mania, not in that sense anyway. Last I checked, which was before DSM 5, admittedly, the diagnosis would read Bipolar I (it would have to be I and not II for mania/not hypomania), with or without psychotic features would then be specified, finally “most recent episode manic” — or depressed, as applicable.

    However, grandiosity is a symptom of mania — sort of. All reputable literature I’ve read (again, I don’t keep up like I used to) lists “delusions of grandeur” as a possible symptom of mania. Not everyone experiences this symptom, but I think when you read it as it ought to be, “delusions of grandeur”, it does make much more sense. ‘I am smarter, I am prettier, I can achieve things “normal” people can’t. . .” Not unlike an intense high from uppers. Anything like that. It’s really more a feeling of invulnerability, at least the ways I have experienced it — and I have, quite often. Not so much in recent years, but that’s a combination of experience, understanding, and something else I can’t quite put into words.

    So they are, with their crossword, actually spreading two more pieces of misinformation. One, that mania is an illness in of itself; two — well you got a completely different impression of symptoms from the single word “grandiosity”, which makes sense, because it does actually mean a lot of things, all of them much more vague than “delusions of grandeur”. Which, come to think of it, while useful in context — as in, you are in the psych field making an evaluation, or you are a well-informed consumer or loved one of a consumer, also well-informed — when taken out of that context is pretty open to interpretation and misunderstanding.

    After all of this, I wonder, Kristen: Which do you think is more harmful? Not providing information, or providing information that is so completely false and ignorant? You and your colleague did a great job of educating, but I really wonder if that event did more harm or good for the other attendees.

  4. it was a great effort to have one, but what a shame it came out so unprepared and misinformed. almost worse than having had it at all. i hope they listen to your suggestions and do some basic mental health issues education for the volunteers if there is a next time.

  5. Oh wow that’s horrifying. Yea, I don’t think mania in itself is a mental disorder, but like you said a symptom of any number of things, from mental disorders to drug abuse. I suppose it’s possible to be only manic, but I’ve never heard of any such cases.
    It sounds like they didn’t do any research while organizing that event at all! Extremely disappointing.

  6. Ugh. This shit aggravates me so much. WHY do so many people confused schizophrenia with DID? They are so different! But I guess since we, as a society, don’t talk much about either – it would be fairly simple to get confused. Regardless, there is absolutely no excuse for that volunteer’s behavior. If you don’t know an answer, admit that. Don’t just start spouting whatever random shit comes to mind. Gah!

    • I don’t think I ever confused the two! I did tell the volunteer that schizophrenia does mean “two minds” but it’s more of a one mind in the real and one mind in the created reality. She thought she knew that answer 😛

  7. Wow this is shocking and disturbing. :/
    Sometimes well intentioned misinformation can be as damaging as blatant lies so it’s worrying that the event did not fact check or educate their volunteers more!
    My first thought on the crossword clue was narcissism or NPD (Narcissistic Personality Disorder) which often provides delusions of grandeur also. Really surprised by their apparent ‘answer’ of mania though… Not to mention the narrow minded, oversimplified way in which the question was even asked. Very ‘one size fits all’ which flies directly in the face of education about mental illness and its symptoms.
    I am glad that you will be providing feedback to help educate the organisers and hopefully prevent things like this from occurring in the future.
    Aimee xx

    • I just hope my feedback is taken seriously. I feel like sometimes organizations hold these events just to tick it off their list, to pat themselves on the back for “doing their part”. As you point out, grandiosity can be found in many other disorders. I know I feel a tad grand about myself 😛

  8. There is no doubt that there is lot of unawareness regarding Mental Health. I strongly recommend whoever organizes these kind of events should have adequate information in order to educate others. I believe professional (mental health) centers should come forward and start something like this so that every one can be a part of it.

  9. More training is definitely needed there I’d say! As someone who has did, and if I’d have been there and was new to my diagnosis, I’d have probably come away even more scared by it than I was before I went there. They need to get their facts straight! X

  10. Good post and certainly a need for education before next event.
    I have a number of friends with bipolar and none of them think they are anything special (except their being limitless in energy when on a high), on the other hand I have a friend who is schizophrenic and he thinks he is JC and that he has solved the de Vinci code (probably has). I have actually steered away from these events for that very reason…far too much misunderstanding even among those who want to help.

  11. That’s pretty dismaying. It’s depressing to think that this happened at a university.

    Regarding your uncertainty about mania and grandiosity: I thought maybe I could share my own experience. A lot of people have the experience in depression of feeling worthless, like everyone secretly despises you, how nothing ever goes right, and your mind emptying out into a black hole. You want to hide and disappear.

    Imagine that in reverse: everyone loves you, you can do anything, everything is easy. Your mind is bubbling with ideas and you can’t wait to tell everyone about all the new stuff you’ve discovered, all your new plans. Sleep is impossible and seems like a waste of time anyway.

    If it’s not too severe, this time can be extremely productive and you can get lots of work done and be the ideal employee, or crush those exams, or take the prize on kareoke night.

    But it can keep going further than that (which is where the line seems to be between hypomania and outright mania). Your ideas get more and more unrealistic and fragmented and the sleep deprivation starts taking its toll. You start emailing all your friends about your new Theory of Everything and a screenplay for a movie starring the Queen (she’ll be on board once she sees how great the script is). It can go pretty far down the rabbit hole.

    So anyway, that’s kind of a taste of it. People think it has something to do with narcissism (which is related to insecurity), where it’s more like total confidence taken to delusional levels.

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