HOP Aboard the Train for Better Mental Health

HOP Aboard the Train for Better Mental Health

Hi Everyone. So good to be back at Columbia. I dropped out of the Public Health School in 1981. As a result, Hunter College gave me a full scholarship. Great move!

Back then, I was living alone for the first time, doing a double master’s in public health and urban planning, working as a reporter, and helping a professor write a book.

Also, volunteering for a consumer rights group, leading a student protest, and carrying on a long-distance love affair—all without Adderall.

Then I turned 30 and could no longer be trusted.

You know that song, “Take the A train.” Well I hopped on and crashed. Missed the signals that I was on the wrong psychological track. In other words, welcome to the world of bipolar disorder!

Joking aside, no one wants to be branded “mentally ill” or even suspected of it. Lest I give you the impression that all is still doom and gloom, help is on the way. Thanks to the Honest, Open, Proud or HOP program, you can decide whether, when, and how to reveal your psychiatric secrets to the people you love and even those you’re not fond of.

Patrick Corrigan, a Distinguished Professor of Psychology at the Illinois Institute of Psychology, who also lives with mental illness, started HOP with his colleagues in 2011. Since then, the program has grown across the country like “crazy” (please excuse the pun). It’s now considered an evidence-based practice, scientifically proven to be effective.

To quote the Honest, Open, Proud website: “Research shows those who have disclosed aspects of their mental illness report a sense of personal empowerment, enhanced self-esteem, and increased confidence in achieving life goals.” HOP enables those of us with mental illness to safely discuss with our peers the A, B, C’s of disclosure. Each group is led by trained facilitators who share our experiences.

Dr. Corrigan preaches, “The sooner we learn to come out successfully, the quicker we will end discrimination.” To that I say AMEN! So, let’s explore how we can come out proud to erase the stigma of mental illness.

First lesson: the pros and cons:

This means how much we identify as mentally ill and what are the benefits and costs of disclosing. I’ve been bipolar for almost 50 years, but there’s more to me than my diagnosis. Yet, it’s taken me a long time to realize I’m a whole human being. HOP reinforced this new way of seeing myself by focusing on the benefits and potential cost of disclosure. Doing the right thing is risky business. That’s why it’s worthwhile AND difficult. Sharing the story of my mental illness with you this evening is a relief. We’re all in this together, whether we are weird or “chronically normal.” No more secrecy. Weighing these risks in a group of peers guarantees safety. That’s the HOP way.

On to lesson 2: Here’s some reasons to disclose or not to disclose

How NOT to disclose: Social avoidance or hanging out only with people like you and me or participating in society, but keeping our mental illness to ourselves.

How TO disclose: Being selective about who we tell and when. That means not shouting out our identities to a bunch of strangers on the edge of a subway platform. And building trust by identifying the challenges we have in common. In other words, don’t divide and conquer by making others feel guilty.

HOP facilitators won’t tell you which option is the right one. HOP helps peers decide where we are and where we’d like to be. Without HOP to guide me, I spent too much time home alone feeling sorry for myself, afraid to tell anyone about my mental illness. But, don’t take a page from my sob story. If you’re willing to move forward, the HOP facilitators will concentrate on how to choose the right person, place, and time for coming out.

Last, there’s lesson 3: Telling our stories

With HOP you can: Practice how to tell yours; try it out and see what happens; learn from other peers who’ve told theirs; then, try, try, try again until you get it right. Be prepared to condense your story into a “New York minute,” and depending on the reaction to what’s called your “elevator speech,” give more details or make a graceful exit.

Even if you can’t decide whether disclosure is right for you now, I believe lesson 3 is the most important one because whether in group therapy or a peer support group, telling our stories to people we trust affirms our existence, whatever our challenges….

Pullout: “How NOT to disclose: Social avoidance or hanging out only with people like you and me or participating in society, but keeping our mental illness to ourselves.”

Carl Blumenthal

Carl Blumenthal

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