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Why We Must Spread Awareness For Mental Health

Claire Griffiths

Claire gave this speech at our World Bipolar Day Press Conference in Washington DC on March 23, 2016. 

I was brought up on the precedent that kindness for both yourself and others was the way to get through life. Love surged through my family, an energy that you never questioned and was never absent. A few years ago I saw my cousin’s life torn apart and thrown back together in different pieces. We later found out that she had bipolar disorder but the doctor never told us or her because of the stigma they thought it would create. I was too young to identify with what was really going on with her, all I could feel or sense was the immense pain that she felt. When I was 13 I started showing signs of bipolar disorder. I can't tell you what happened like its a movie because my life is definitely not a movie. It was as if things started happening where you could feel the pain and the discomfort but you truly didn't realize what was going on until you or loved one were put in a dangerous situation. I still can't believe how we can feel those feelings and create negative to help us hide those destructive tendencies. When I started cutting I didn't care to hide it I didn't think about it, I’d etch red into my skin, all up my arms, and go to school with a t-shirt on. No one commented. And I still don't know why. Whether it was that kids were too scared, they just didn't care, or they didn't know what it was. When I was diagnosed, I thought that’s it, that’s the answer, I have bipolar disorder. I thought getting help and getting a diagnosis meant no more pain and there's going to be no more suffering because I'm bipolar and now I know, now I'm on medication, I thought it was that easy. But what it really meant was a topic much too broad for me to wrap my head around, even today I can’t fully understand it and I think that’s where acceptance comes in. There's a large number of people that I pushed away not because I didn't like them or because they were bad people but because I did not know how to ask for help and my cries came as threats. Even if you're surrounded by many people that love you and express their love for you at a time like this you could feel like you're the only person in the world that understands. Some of that's true but there's people out there who will listen and who will care. This is why I support spreading awareness for mental health, not only because I've been through it but also because I've watched so many others suffer.  

Over the past two years I have been hospitalized six times not all of them for suicide attempt but a couple. If a student was hospitalized for cancer the whole class would write get well cards. Every time I've been hospitalized I'm lucky if someone still talks to me. I am not comparing cancer to bipolar disorder but they're both diseases and they're both involuntary. I spent about a two month period in the hospital during the Christmas season of 2014. During this time I met a teenage girl named Brooklyn. It was apparent she had had a tough life. The bravado that came off of her told me not to mess with her, maybe to even fear her. But the longer we were confined to that small unit and saw people come and go the more we began to understand each other. We had grown up in very different backgrounds. We displayed different behaviors, but there was no denying each other's suffering. A bond formed that wasn’t like something you would see in the movies. It wasn't beautiful it was just there. We were still ourselves, we still took part in the same behaviors, but there was a feeling of compassion. We helped each other survive even if we didn’t realize it. Brooklyn also had bipolar disorder along with many other people who came into that hospital, I will no longer look at bipolar as rare. It's as common as a hummingbird in your garden. You might not see it but it's there.

There is a stigma when it comes to bipolar disorder, I see it as people are uncomfortable talking about it because they truly don’t know what it is, which is okay, but it’s when people go to the point of making jokes, or classifying someone as bipolar because they “can’t make up their mind,” it becomes unacceptable. It’s ignorance and it continues to happen so people start to stigmatize without realizing it. It becomes a part of culture. I'm 15 years old and I am a part of a generation that is learning their facts from friends and facebook. WE need to get information into the world that lets people know we are all humans, because the way they stigmatize us is completely dehumanizing.

I’m a proud supporter of World Bipolar Day, and International Bipolar Foundation. I’ve done so much to get to the point where I’m comfortable talking about my illness and even just accepting it. I hope one day any one with bipolar disorder will feel comfortable expressing their illness without fear of being treated differently or wrongly. Thank you so much for this opportunity to speak. People of all ages are affected by this disorder, but we all keep fighting not only for ourselves but those around us. Maybe you are just a friend or a mother of someone with bipolar disorder, keep fighting for them.

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