More people coming out about mental illness to fight stigma

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Colby Itkowitz, Washington Post | June 2, 2016

Original Artcile Published on NationalPost.com

For several years, she wrote about her bipolar disorder under a pseudonym. She described how she’d been hospitalized four times, twice since her first child was born. She explained how she went off her medication during both of her pregnancies and how each time — once as the mother of a newborn and then again weeks into her second pregnancy — she was escorted from her home in police handcuffs, defiant.

She blogged to connect and reach other mothers grappling with mental illness. Ultimately, however, she decided that hiding her identity was actually perpetuating the shame long associated with mental disorders.

So even as her parents urged her not to, Jennifer Marshall in 2013 typed her real name on a blog post, hit publish and waited for the reaction.

With those keystrokes, Marshall, who lives in Ashburn, Virginia, joined a growing community of people with mental illness who have chosen to out themselves.

Marshall describes a surge of strength as she shared her story. “It’s human connection,” she said. “When you find someone who has been able to overcome something that you’re struggling with, it’s really powerful.”

Likened by some to the gay rights movement, with its beginnings in personal revelation, the groundswell to lift the stigma connected with mental illness has had a multiplying effect accelerated by social media. The more people who “come out” about their mental illness and are met with acceptance, the more others feel it’s safe to do the same.

Since the beginning of this year, millions have tweeted about their mental illness, many using established hashtags. For example, the campaigns #imnotashamed and #sicknotweak were tweeted 75,000 times and 139,000 times, respectively, since Jan. 1, according to an analysis from Twitter.

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