Name: Maria Russo
Diagnosis: borderline personality disorder
Depression has been part of Maria’s life for over twenty five years. Recently, she realised that depression was not the whole story. “I experience emotional peaks and troughs”, she says. “One day I’m fine and the next I’m not”. She visited her doctor and asked to be evaluated for borderline personality disorder. “I was surprised to be fobbed off”, she said. “I was told I didn’t know what I was talking about and that I was too old to have a personality disorder”. Eventually, she was referred to a psychiatrist who diagnosed the condition. To Maria’s relief, she is now receiving appropriate treatment. “It’s a challenge, though”, she says. “I don’t think doctors know what to do to help people with borderline personality disorder”. Maria takes medication, which she says helps her to stay, “sane”, but has unpleasant side effects.
As a self employed businesswoman, Maria is her own boss but she admits, “I would never disclose a mental health problem on a job application. I would be too embarrassed”. Her family struggle to understand. “My parents’ attitude has been that it’s all in my head”, she says. “They think that a good kick up the backside would sort me out”. She has also found the attitudes of health professionals to be disappointing. “My GP has repeatedly told me that there’s nothing wrong with me, and that I’m exaggerating”, she says. Maria thinks that, “unless you can take a pill and be cured, doctors aren’t interested. They also believe that, in order to be mentally ill, you have to be totally incapacitated”. She has felt belittled by the lack of consideration given to her feelings when she has felt to be in crisis. “When I visited the doctor and told her how paranoid I’d been feeling, how I wasn’t able to sleep, her advice was for me to go home and take a bath”. Maria concedes that the attitudes she has encountered are beginning to have an effect on her self esteem. “After a while, you start to believe it”, she says. “What if my parents are right and I am creating my own problems?” This has made her increasingly fearful of asking for help. “I worry that when I go to see the doctor, they think I’m weird. I’m worried their reaction when I come through the door is, “Oh, not her again”.
Maria has a wide network of friends, but acknowledges that doesn’t find it easy to ask for support. “I’m usually the person people depend on, so being the person reaching out doesn’t come naturally to me. This is why we need to start speaking out,” she says. “Mental health problems are such a taboo. If people knew that they could open up about mental health issues without being judged then there would be less ignorance about what mental illness actually is”.
If there were one thing the world should understand about mental health, Maria hopes that it is that everybody is different. “Even if you have the same diagnosis as someone else, it doesn’t mean that you have the same experiences”, she explains. “Society has preconceived notions about what a person with a mental health problem is like. The truth is, everyone is unique. It’s not just mental health- it’s human nature”. Maria hopes that, one day, mental health won’t be taboo any longer. “I want to go into a pub and hear conversations about mental illness. There’s no magic pill. It’s not contagious. You can’t catch it, the same way you can’t catch a broken leg. It’s time to stop dodging the subject”.
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