Over twenty years ago when I was working as a social worker with children and families, my colleagues would often say of their difficult clients, “S/he is borderline.” It seemed as if the diagnosis of borderline personality had burst on the scene and every client that social workers didn’t want to deal with all of sudden had it (they didn’t of course).
I’m not a social worker anymore so I am not up on the latest things that social workers talk about, but I am a participant on social media, and the same thing is going on today with narcissistic personality disorder. All of a sudden everyone who seeks attention on social media by constantly posting selfies or information about themselves is called a narcissist. Of course having narcissistic personality disorder is more complicated and disruptive than posting a high number of photos or seeking praise on Facebook or Instagram. People with this personality disorder lack empathy, and see themselves as superior to other people (to name a few of the difficulties).
I often hear jokes about having schizophrenia, but I rarely hear schizophrenia talked about with the same disdain as I do narcissism, or that I used to hear about borderline personality disorder. With schizophrenia most of the stigma comes from the media and their love of sensationalism (stories about killers, the homeless, etc.).
Now, there is a difference between schizophrenia, bipolar and a personality disorder. All articles classify schizophrenia and bipolar as a mental illness. But with a personality disorder, because it deals with character and personality some still define it as a disorder rather than a mental illness. In 2002, this article which supports changing personality disorders from a “condition/disorder” to a mental illness was written.
I hid my mental illness for almost twenty years, because of the fear of being judged and misunderstood. Thankfully, I wasn’t shamed or embarrassed into not seeking treatment though. For others it is different. The pressure not to be seen as sick, especially with a mental illness or personality disorder can keep them from getting the help they need. My psychiatrist said his patients prefer to see him in his clinic (a general practitioner’s office) because then people don’t know they are visiting a psychiatrist they assume they are there for high blood pressure or an annual check-up, or any other reason to see a general practitioner.
I want to help create an environment of acceptance where everyone who needs treatment, feels safe and comfortable to go and get that treatment. If one of us with “mental health issues” (OCD, PTSD, social anxiety, an eating disorder, narcissistic personality disorder, depression, borderline personality disorder, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, etc.) is being targeted as a “negative” or a “bad” person by society, I think we need to step in and set the record straight.
I want everyone to know that people with schizophrenia don’t hear voices one hundred percent of the time. I want people to know we don’t all believe in conspiracy theories, or any number of other harmful stereotypes. I want the same truth to get out about other mental health issues. Not all writers are narcissist (I read an article that claimed that they were the other day), and not all people who seek constant approval and validation on social media are either. We throw that word around inaccurately in the same way we use the word depression to mean sad. “I’m so depressed today.” When anyone that has suffered true depression will tell you that it doesn’t last one day, and if you are at work, typing on Facebook, making plans to go out that night, you are most likely “sad” or “down” but not truly depressed. Depression does not equal sad or a lack of motivation. Depression is a serious illness that is deadly it is not something you feel because you missed a sale at Nordstrom’s. (“I’m so depressed that I missed that sale!”) No.
Until there is a better understanding and reduced stigma around all mental health issues, we need to speak up, and speak out. We need to correct people when they casually say that someone has narcissistic personality disorder, or that they are depressed. We need to help reduce the misinformation and negativity around all mental health issues.
The progress we make in educating about one diagnosis is a step in the right direction for all of us.
When it gets better for one, it gets better for all. No one is alone in helping make changes, we are in this together.