Friday, March 23, 2007

Standing On MY Own


by Beth LaCrosse

When I was young, I started to play musical instruments. I now know how to play the cello, the piano, the trombone and the bass guitar. Music makes me happy. It’s something like meditation, and listening to my favorite music and playing along with my bass is very soothing. I have many happy memories but there are a few things that did bother me. some encouraged me to play instruments, yet never did attend any of my concerts. This was very sad until I realized that they may not have been that important in my life. This was quite a revelation for me. I am much happier now that I realize that I am a good person, and play music very well. I now know that I am the most important person in my life.

I have expanded my life to be involved as an advocate for persons who are living with a mental illness. I have been very active in NAMI (national alliance on mental illness) since 1996, and served as secretary, vice president and president of NAMI Alaska. I was President of NAMI Alaska for 5 ½ years. I have also served on a number of statewide boards, councils, committees and governing bodies, starting in 1995. These include the State Rehabilitation Council, the Governor’s Committee, The Alaska Mental Health Board, and the Governing Body for the Alaska Psychiatric Institute. I currently serve on the Disability Law Center of Alaska, the Mental Health Rights Advisory Council and am the chair of the Restraint and Seclusion Committee for the MHRAC. I have received many awards and recognition for my work as an advocate, and like music, I find advocacy work rewarding. As a person who suffers from mental illness, (schizo-affective disorder, PTSD, and others) I know first hand what it is like to be mentally ill.


I believe that my mental illness started when I was really young. I personally think that someone close to me had a lot to do with my illness. He was a very angry person who picked on people weaker than he was. In other words, he was a bully, and actually enjoyed bullying others. I was not the only one who he bullied, others, were also subjected to abuse from him. I think that we have all become better persons despite being bullied. It has made us all better people because we have risen up and removed him from our lives. I have become stronger and more self-confident, and believe in myself. My recovery has been a long, slow and difficult journey, one filled with hazards, but results in a greater awareness of life, a greater acceptance of myself, more positive, more real and that shows me that recovery is not only possible, but probable as well. One of my favorite quotes is “there is a light at the end of the tunnel, and it is not that of an oncoming train”.

What is mental illness and how does society react?

Research has shown that people who experience a mental illness have a different life experience than those who do not have a mental illness. Deficits in income, self-worth and social interaction are due, in part to the effects of stigma that surrounds mental illness. Research indicates that attitudes about people with mental illness by members of the general population have been shown to be negative. This creates “underlying negative attitudes towards persons with mental health problems” found among all socioeconomic groups surveyed.
Major factors towards achieving acceptance include eliminating the shrouds of stigma and discrimination towards “mental illness” and the “mentally ill”. Persons who are living with mental illness experience these negative attitudes and respond by having negative feelings including feelings of shame, fear, isolation and experience themselves as objects of ridicule. Culturally negative stereotypes of mental illness are fueled by selective reporting, and the portrayal of people with mental illness in entertainment, and in many other everyday life situations as “dangerous” and ”violent”. People with mental illness, acting on these internalized beliefs, expect to be devalued and discriminated against. Self-devaluation leads to “expectation of rejection”. This in turn causes people with mental illness to withdrawal and isolate from social and employment settings out of fear of rejection. They internalize these negative stereotypes learned through socialization, creating a self-fulfilling prophecy that results in unemployment and lower income.

In order to help combat the stigma and discrimination against “mental illness” and the “mentally ill”, I have been giving presentations since 1999 using the program “In Our Own Voice: Living with Mental Illness” (IOOV:LWMI), formally known as “Living with Schizophrenia”. This educational program was originally produced by NAMI National with a grant from Eli Lilly in the mid 1990’s. This program helps to train different treatments of these illnesses, including both traditional treatment as well as the more non-traditional approaches to recovery. Topics covered in the IOOV:LWMI presentation are “dark days”, “acceptance” “treatment”, “coping skills” and “successes hopes and dreams”.

I have been conducting a study using the In Our Own Voice: Living With Mental Illness (IOOV:LWMI) program to evaluate attitudes towards persons with a mental illness. I am using an attitudinal survey form given before and after the presentation to look at attitudinal changes that can result from attending the IOOV presentation. Thus far, results indicate that there is a significant improvement of peoples’ attitudes towards persons with brain disorders as a direct effect of attending this valuable educational presentation.

It is our hope that through continuing education, we can help change people’s attitudes towards mental health consumers to be more positive and accepting. We believe that educational presentations like the IOOV program is a key component in de-stigmatizing mental illness by helping to educate folks about the truths of mental illness and light the way to recovery for all.

The presentation will focus on different brain disorders, their symptoms, biological correlates of, and treatment options for persons living with a psychiatric disability, as well as what it takes to be “in recovery” from a mental illness. The In Our Own Voice presentation is an interactive approach which invites a lively discussion. The presentation is also helpful in educating the general public, legislators, and mental health professionals by presenting the true facts about mental illness helping to reduce the shroud of stigma and discrimination that surround it and to dispel the myths about “mental illness” and the “mentally ill”. We hope that by education, we can change people’s attitudes about persons living with mental illness and their family and friends, as well as help foster growth in one’s personal recovery.


It is vitally important to continue the work of training mental health consumers to deliver a presentation with first hand factual knowledge regarding what it is like to live with a mental illness. Topics covered in this program include the individuals with brain disorders to give these presentations to help fight the shroud of stigma and discrimination that has plagued “mental illness” and the “mentally ill” for centuries. On a more personal level, this program fosters hope and promotes recovery for folks living with a psychiatric disability.

10 comments:

RiPPeR said...

the biggest problem with descrimination aimed at the 'mentally ill', is the misnomer that any of us are 'mentally well' in the first place. and to apply such vague characteristics, such as '...people who experience a mental illness have a different life experience than those who do not have a mental illness.' only fuel the misinformation more. [im not implying that Beth is fueling that fire. only that she points out, through this statement, how subjective a term 'mental illness' really is]
What it really comes down to is our perpetual fear of all things unknown and/or different. what two people on this entire planet actually experience life in the same way? i, for one, believe that the only truely 'mentally ill' people are the ones who assume they are not. the rest of us are indoctrinated to believe we are 'mentally ill' if we see things or feel things differently than the generally accepted ideologies that only establish prejudice in the first place.

Flaco Momo said...

Very well put, Ripper. You should post here more often.
The issue I have with Mental illnes is which is worse, the illness or the medication one needs to suppress/overcome/tolerate/cope?

Marijuana is illegal, psychotropic durgs are not. Go fig.

Mental illness is only a state of mind.

Anonymous said...

My name is Beth. Just to respond to rippers comments, mental illness is a disease, much like diabetes, COPD and cardiac disease. Mental illnesses affect the brain, so that the symptoms occuring relate to the way we think, feel, perceive, act, respond and relate to others. That is why mental illness is so visible. Because people with mental illness act "bizzare", "grandiose", or "erratic" they stand our from the crowd. It is not a bad thing to be mentally ill. I think of it as a challenge to be more than I can be. I deal with my illness and symptoms on a day to day basis, something I also do for my cardiac disorder. I take care of myself and get better mentally, physically, and spirituality. That is simply the best I can do.

RiPPeR said...

i fail to see any 'response' in this latest comment. i think we are all aware that 'mental illness' is classified as a disease. alcoholism, other drug addiction, and even being a 'victim' of hypochondria are considered diseases as well. the point i was trying to make is that 'mental illness' in many cases is misdiagnosed, otherwise exagerrated, or simply 'made-up' by doctors/patients in order to fit neatly into a definition that could also be listed as simple dietary deficiencies, trouble with mortality, or any of another thousand different 'causes'.

i am not implying that everyone who is diagnosed as 'mentally ill' isnt. i will say that most are not. as 'flaco momo' pointed out, sometimes the drugs used to treat SYMPTOMS are worse than the disease, and arent actually curing or treating the disease itself, ONLY the symptoms.

i myself was diagnosed bi-polar (manic-depressive) at the tender age of 15 (i was prescibed a serotonin re-uptake inhibitor, but refused to take it), but through years of practice in changing my mental outlooks, controlling my emotional swings, and changes in my diet, anyone would now be hard pressed to diagnose me as anything but wierd. and that was my original point in the first place. at times, i am proud to say, some people say im 'erratic', 'grandiose', 'bizarre', and many other things. that doesnt make me mentally ill, it makes me an individual. i said it before - all too often 'mental illness' becomes the 'filing cabinet' into which non-quantifiable things get tossed. there is no such thing as 'mentally well'. very few americans are even participating members in the ecosystem that surrounds them, how 'mentally well' should we expect to be? NOT ALWAYS, but VERY OFTEN, 'mental illness' is nothing more than a person who acts, feels, sees things, or in some other way carries on, differently than the accepted 'norms'. just because somebody decided what was considered 'good' and 'bad', does NOT mean that either exists. and, of course, behind everything else, let us not forget that there are large sums of money to be gained by telling someone who believes they are sick that they are, and considerably less money to be made by telling them there is nothing wrong, or by CURING their disease.

Anonymous said...

What's up, I log on to your new stuff regularly. Your story-telling style is witty, keep it up!

My weblog ... Vertical jump Exercises

Anonymous said...

fantastic publish, very informative. I'm wondering why the other experts of this sector don't notice this.
You should continue your writing. I am sure, you have a great readers' base already!

Also visit my homepage: online project management class

Anonymous said...

I'm extremely impressed with your writing skills as well as with the layout on your weblog. Is this a paid theme or did you customize it yourself? Either way keep up the excellent quality writing, it's rare to see a nice blog
like this one these days.

My web page exercises for vertical jump

Anonymous said...

I was recommended this website by my cousin. I am not sure
whether this post is written by him as nobody else know such detailed about my problem.
You are amazing! Thanks!

Here is my website exercises to improve vertical jump

Anonymous said...

It's remarkable to go to see this web site and reading the views of all colleagues on the topic of this piece of writing, while I am also zealous of getting experience.

Also visit my website :: bed and breakfast 3 game

Anonymous said...

I usually do not leave a response, but after reading
through a few of the comments on this page "Standing On MY Own".

I do have a couple of questions for you if you tend not to mind.

Could it be just me or do some of the remarks appear as if they are
left by brain dead individuals? :-P And, if you are posting at other online social sites, I
would like to follow everything fresh you have to post.
Would you list of all of all your public sites like your Facebook page,
twitter feed, or linkedin profile?

my website exercises to increase vertical