So I’ve been thinking lately, as I do. I completed my first semester of grad school at the School of Social Work, and as such I feel that I’m well on my way to achieving my goal of becoming a licensed clinical social worker. I’ve wanted to be a therapist since high school, when my father kindly informed me that, should I wish to be a writer, I should also have a(nother) job so that I can actually make a living. So here I am, eight years later, making this dream a reality slowly but surely.
I also have a field placement at Madison’s local Clubhouse, which is a part of Clubhouse International and utilizes the Clubhouse Model of Psychosocial Rehabilitation. I’m a huge fan of both my placement and Clubhouse International, and I absolutely love being a student intern of sorts at my current location. However, it’s given me the opportunity to puzzle over mental health and where, as a practitioner, I would draw a line. What exactly separates me from the Clubhouse members I interact with twice a week for sixteen hours? And when I’m actually an LCSW, what then? Because in all reality, all it takes is a severe flare-up of symptoms conflated with bad circumstances and I, too, could become psychiatrically hospitalized, or be considered as having severe and persistent mental illness.
These thoughts then lead to this all-important question: how do I identify as a person with mental illness? Do I even identify that way? My diagnoses to date are Gender Identity Disorder (known as Gender Dysphoria in the current DSM); Major Depressive Episodes, recurrent; Dysthymia; and let’s throw in Anxiety Disorder, NOS just for kicks and giggles. However, I’ve always approached my mental health from the standpoint of, “Well, I may have these diagnoses, but my mental health concerns aren’t as severe as [insert example here].” And so I’ve never truly identified as someone with a mental illness. In fact, I actively avoid using the term “mental illness” and try instead to talk about “mental health concerns”, as opposed to discussing mental health from an epidemiological framework.
So where does that place me on the spectrum of being an individual with mental illness? A lot of the people I interact with at the Clubhouse identify as having mental illnesses and use this as a form of self-empowerment. For more information, just look more into the history of the psychiatric survivors movement. Individuals come to terms with their diagnoses, and can use this knowledge to help guide them in self-determination of what services from which they would benefit the most.
I’m thinking that stigma is the biggest factor in people — myself included — not wanting to identify as a person with a mental illness. Overcoming this stigma is just one of the many civil rights movements facing the world today. And it all starts with education and the desire to understand and accept others, regardless of who they are or where they’ve been. Hopefully I’ll get there someday.