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I was first diagnosed with a mental illness in the early 90’s. At first my diagnosis was depression, then bipolar disorder, and then schizoaffective disorder and eventually paranoid schizophrenia. I think my final diagnosis was given to me in 2006 or 2007. But I have been living with a mental illness for over 20 years.

I’m an old timer. I’m old school. I’ve seen a thing or two and I am happy to report progress. There are certain aspects of being mentally ill that I would give an A to right now, and others I would give an F.

I know I frequently write about discrimination, stigma, need for more treatment (especially accessible treatment), homelessness, and the mentally ill in prison. All of the things I just listed are real, and they are very pressing and important issues, and I would give most of these areas a D or F if I were grading them.

I said I would give an A to some progress we have made about mental illness though, and that A would go to awareness. We have come so far in mental health awareness over the past 20 years.

When I was first diagnosed, there were therapy and group therapy and there was the organization NAMI. Those were really my only choices beyond my medication for talking about and learning about my mental illness. Now there are more organizations providing education and trying to raise awareness than I can count. There are new organizations springing up all the time and many of these organizations are set up around telling people stories about the lives of those living with a mental illness.

There are also huge sites like Psych Central, Psychology Today, and others, devoted to getting information out there about all the different mental illnesses.

There are online support groups. There is online therapy. There are more celebrities than ever coming out with their stories of addiction, bipolar disorder, anxiety and depression (I still don’t see too much about schizophrenia) and there are more movies, books and television shows being created with characters who are struggling with one or more of these illnesses.  And now there are blogs – thousands of online journals where people can read what it is like to have a mental illness from people who are actually living with one.

When I was first diagnosed, friends of mine who were doctors, told me not to tell anyone about my diagnosis. They thought people would judge me, and reject me. I only came out publicly with my diagnosis 9 months ago – the young psychiatrist that encouraged me to come out must have known the world had changed while I was in hiding. Well, I flung open the curtains and showed the world what it is like to have paranoid schizophrenia, and I have to admit, the world for the most part has been kind, compassionate, and accepting. I give us an A for progress in that area and although that’s not everything, I think it is something we can all celebrate.