Cutting the stigma of mental illness

On behalf of Psychology Week and the National Alliance of Mental Illness, the Psi Beta and Psychology club featured, “In Our Own Voice,” an informational video in which people with mental illnesses speak about their journeys.

Presenting the film and discussing their own experiences with mental illness were Scott Whyte, former policeman and homicide investigator, and Minnie Lucas, National Alliance of Mental Health activist.

“I think pretty much everyone waits until something called ‘rock-bottom’ happens,” Whyte said. “This big river in-denial is not only in Egypt.”

Diagnosed with manic depression and type-two bipolar disorder, Whyte hit his rock-bottom was when he was 39-years-old, but the genetic pre-disposition was already in him.

“I was a late bloomer,” Whyte said.

Scott Whyte speaks about his success, hopes and dreams in regards to mental illness.

Scott Whyte speaks about his success, hopes and dreams in regards to mental illness.

While on his way to investigate a homicide, he accepted his illness. He explained receiving a letter from a psychic who told him exactly where the body was and also spoke to God. When asking God close-ended questions, he received answers through feelings.

“It felt like I was throwing lighting bolts and it was orgasmically good,” Whyte said.

Those thoughts occurred because of “some really weird chemistry. Dopamine and seratonin levels were way out of balance.” Recognizing his thoughts were abnormal, he reached out for help. Deciding between seeing a priest or a shrink, he chose the latter.

A psychiatrist prescribes medication, however seeing a counselor is also a form of treatment.

“Meds are kind of like a hand grenade in the brain,” Whyte said. “The brain needs dopamine, but if you have too much flying around you tend to hallucinate.”

Finding the right medication varies by patient due to possible side effects. Whyte said the first one had him “puking through his nose” and the next had him curled up in bed anxious that if his feet touched the floor, he would die. Finally, the seventh pill worked.

“That balancing point, that equal sign if you will, is key to controlling mental illness,” Whyte said.

Whyte also stressed how important it is to have a social network to support recovery.

“We call ourselves support groups. Stigma is a tough thing,” Whyte said.

Although thought to be taboo, discussing an illness  and asking questions is essential to spread awareness.

“It’s impossible to say the wrong thing,” Whyte said. “You can’t make it worse than it already is.”

Many people may be apprehensive around the mentally ill, but there is more suffering than violence.

“My darkest day was when I opened my eyes, screamed for help and no one came until I passed out,” Lucas said.

Before getting diagnosed, she thought she was possessed by demons when she heard voices, so a priest blessed her home and performed an exorcism. It wasn’t until the second time she awoke on a gurney that she was diagnosed with schizophrenia, panic disorder and OCD.

“I woke up in a white room with only a door, no windows,” Lucas said. “I didn’t know why I was there, but it was also a blessing because I learned how I got there.”

Invisible friends in elementary school was one of the first signs that worried her mother, but the voices worsened in high school.

“Those friends were no longer helpful,” Lucas said. “They became shadows and voices I couldn’t understand.”

Minnie Lucas and Scott Whyte laugh about their mental illness and explain the obstacles they have overcome.

Minnie Lucas and Scott Whyte laugh about their mental illness and explain the obstacles they have overcome.

While transfering to a university, the voices told her she had to take her life. She didn’t have a gun and didn’t like knifes or blood, so suicide was out. Since she failed, she thought she should take someone else’s life. At grocery stores she would hide, then jump out and scare people hoping they would have heart attacks and die. Police were called and she saw monsters.

“I tried to save myself cause I knew the monsters had found me. I remember swinging at him and the last thing I remember was being on a gurney,” Lucas said. “I thought I was on a spaceship at first. No one told me why I was strapped down.”

The National Alliance of Mental Illness helped educate her 8-year-old son, husband and parents. Recovery was hard for her because she was told what she was hearing, seeing and believing wasn’t true.

“It was something I grew up with. How could it not be true?” Lucas said.

Previously 78-pounds, she gained 100 pounds with medication and thought she was being experimented on after she was unrecognizable. Lucas was convinced the doctors were trying to change her and take her powers.

“I knew I had powers to fly and go through walls, but I tried going thru the walls at the hospital and was never able to,” Lucas said. “I couldn’t become invisible anymore. The nurses would find me.”

After a year, she was released. Even though there are side effects with medication, she says it is important to find one that works.

“I’d rather be a little husky and chubby and have a wonderful husband and wonderful life than be skinny and in the hospital,” Lucas said.

Journaling helps her cope by getting what’s in her head on paper. Lucas said if it is not written down, there is no way for her to distinguish what is real and what isn’t. Her journals are kept open for her family members to read.

“Before saying, ‘Hi, how are you?’ they go straight to the journals,” Lucas said. “I giggle about it, but its a good thing. I’m laughing at what I’m going through. The laughter, the humor, it keeps me going.”

In addition to journaling, she wrote a comic book on her fantasy friends, became a ceramics teacher, has three of her own rehab clinics and works with groups.

Like Scott Whyte, Lucas hopes people can talk about mental illness and cut stigma, but there’s a long way to go.

“It’s like talking about an in-grown toenail,” Lucas said. “Yeah, it hurts, but we’ll get over it.”

Whyte hopes stigma and labeling becomes obsolete. He doesn’t want to feel like people don’t know what to call him, or any other mentally ill diagnosed person.

“It’s Scott,” he said. “Why is it necessary to call me consumer Scott? If you had cancer, would people call me cancerous Scott? It’s unnecessary. Call me Scott. I’m happy with that.”