Nitty gritty reality of mental illness stigma

By Siddy Shivdasani

Mental illness stigma is being discussed more and more and I was trying to work out exactly how it manifests itself in my life as someone who has been sectioned three times.

We rarely hear about it from the sufferer’s point of view. Many seem to think bipolar disorder 1 is something to forget about when I’m not incarcerated. Like I’m just making it up.

I once overheard a former colleague — and friend — jokingly tell another that “in the good old days, if you had a mental illness you were just regarded as a twat”. That’s an obvious example of stigma.

But it can be subtle…and potentially more damaging. A former friend told me to “just get over it”. I consider that as stigma, like I should just go into denial to spare his blushes.

He also advised me to stop taking my medication (“that shit”) and start smoking dope again (!). I take my meds religiously because I’m desperate not to be incarcerated again. Or worse.

A close relative accused me of being an “overbearing bully, aside from mental illness”. But the lines are blurred and science has only scratched the surface of what’s going on between our ears compared to the rest of our bodies.

I accept I can be pushy but I am a journalist and it usually comes with the territory. Spending many years in the toxic world of national paper newsrooms packed with real “overbearing bullies” takes its toll.

So what am I like to elicit these reactions? Former Daily Star Editor Peter Grimsditch wrote: “I like you because you are 100% fucking lunatic, rebel, individualistic, talented, interesting, loyal to those you love and potentially a death-ray to complete c***s.”

Some say I think “differently”. And honestly, I do want people to make allowances. I can be inappropriate and I should be called out on it, depending on my mental state at the time. But I find it frustrating that those who saw me in episodes forget how bad it got.

I also find myself feeling oppressed within the NHS, with some medics being shockingly patronising. Stigmatised by healthcare professionals.

It was more pronounced as an outpatient because I’d later go to work, perform and be treated as a high-functioning professional. However, my job had a stigma of its own, with the bosses treating my condition as an irritation.

I was last sectioned in 2009. But mental health issues still affect me every day. Bipolar is a mood disorder and different symptoms manifest themselves across the spectrum. The tricky bit is matching my moods with what’s actually going on in my life.

Before my diagnosis, for instance, I’d feel down and look for reasons why, which aggravated things. But now, I call it a “mini depression” and just try and ride it out. More often than not, I move on inside a week and quickly forget the reason I was in despair.

But there are “triggers”, any number of life events, good or bad. And I require patience from my loose network of friends and family who support me when I’m feeling the strain.

I did feel a deep sense of shame after losing my mind. I was a broken man. Some days I’d think of nothing but suicide. I have come a long way and achieved a lot in the last ten years, personally and professionally.

And blatant mental illness stigma — people not wanting to be around me — is ultimately the worst type. But I’m not afraid to tackle bipolar.

As a journalist, I have the tools to stand up for myself…and others. But like with racism, it’s not something victims alone can solve.

Siddy is a former national newspaper journalist author of MELTING POTHEAD: Stories of an Anglo-Indian raised on Brixton’s Frontline — website: