Exploring the Stigma of Mental Illness

Exploring the Stigma of Mental Illness

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This post was originally published on April 3, 2014.

“Screw stigma. I’m coming out,” news anchor Mark Joyella writes about his mental illness in a moving essay of the same name, for Medium.com. And his candid, raw revelations keep coming. Joyella paints a painfully accurate portrait of what it’s like to live with a brain that’s fighting you—your health, your happiness, your serenity, your very life—at every turn.

Joyella’s Story (and Brain Chemistry)

“Make no mistake, and I must avoid falling back on one of my favorite defense mechanisms, vagueness: I have a mental illness,” he reiterates, explaining that his official diagnosis is OCD, though his main problem is, again, his own brain—namely, cruel, obsessive thoughts that pummel him constantly.

What ultimately helps Joyella is some tough love from a therapist that lays out his future for him. Does he want marriage and kids? Yes and yes. Is he making any headway at all toward meeting those bigger life goals when he’s sick and suffering from an untreated illness? No. “’Do you want to be the oldest Dad in preschool?’” the doctor asked. No, I said. ‘Then you need to decide.’ Suddenly, my treatment seemed to be clearly connected to my future—either the one where I’m alone, or married, with a family. His swift kick in the ass changed my life.”

That doctor’s certainty that Joyella could have a better, bigger life changed him and he began to get better, with the additional help of medication. He was also “directed to a book that has as one of its coping mechanisms the suggestion that every intrusive thought be followed by ‘that’s not me, that’s the disease.’ And that truly helps.”

He got married, became a father, got “everything I ever wanted.”

Coming Out

But Joyella hadn’t publicly “come out” with his mental illness yet for fear of it negatively impacting his job, which was a core component of his stability and personal fulfillment. And that lack of transparency haunted him. His decision to share his story in April  is good timing—it’s currently National Alcohol Awareness Month, which obviously seeks to raise awareness for another type of mental illness that affects millions of people worldwide.

According to the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA), about 3.3 million adult Americans have OCD. And one in five adults—46 million people—have had some kind of emotional, mental or behavioral condition in the previous year.

For Joyella’s part, he has quit his anchor job in Florida with plans to move back to New York with his family. He’s hopeful about his future despite his illness, and his candor in revealing such intimate info will surely help others who are similarly afflicted.

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About Author

Laura Barcella is a documentary researcher, author, freelance writer and ghostwriter from Washington, DC. Her writing has also appeared in TIME, Marie Claire, Salon, Esquire, Elle, Refinery29, AlterNet, The Village Voice, Cosmopolitan, The Chicago Sun-Times, Time Out New York, BUST, ELLE Girl, NYLON and CNN.com. Her book credits include Know Your Rights: A Modern Kid's Guide to the American Constitution, Fight Like a Girl: 50 Feminists Who Changed the World, Popular: The Ups and Downs of Online Dating from the Most Popular Girl in New York City, Madonna & Me: Women Writers on the Queen of Pop and The End: 50 Apocalyptic Visions From Pop Culture That You Should Know About…Before It’s Too Late.