One of the objectives of Beautiful Distress is to fight stigma. Therefore, from now on, we will publish a regular column about stigma on our site. Read the second contribution by Vos Beerthuis, psychiatrist in Amsterdam. You can find the first column by Wilco Tuinebreijer here.
‘Have you ever met a normal person? And, liked it? ‘This slogan could be seen in the Netherlands in the seventies. It hasn’t lost its poignancy. Almost all of us have a screw loose. And this makes us interesting. That is, theoretically. Because in reality we don’t readily admit if there is something wrong mentally. Nowadays we are allowed to speak out on most physical illnesses. But a mental disorder is a different story. Doctors first started to describe psychiatric impediments in specialist literature. Next to come were novels, plays and movies, and peers started to share their experiences. In the past decades we saw ego documents: patients, who described their illnesses, told their stories in books and on television. But still it is quiet rare for a patient to tell the story of his or her malady in public. On Facebook I recently read the story of a student who had been diagnosed with a panic disorder. He had to overcome a lot to dare to ask if someone else was having the same disorder. Shame, ignorance and lack of understanding still lead to patients suffering in loneliness.
It can be helpful when celebrities openly tell in the media about their psychiatric disorder. In the TV program “It’s autistic here” the Dutch TV personality Filemon Wesselink spoke about his autistic tendencies. Speed skater and Olympic Gold medalist Stefan Groothuis talked about his depression, the pianist/entertainer Mike Boddé benefitted from antidepressants. Doctors who write about their own mental illness are rare. In 1982 a psychiatric professor abolished the taboo. In his ‘Far Gone’ Piet Kuiper described his suffering from psychotic depression and how he was treated. Kay Jamison writes in An Unquiet Mind about her bipolar disorder, and how hard she finds it to be a patient. At the same time she is the head of a department in Mood Disorders and a world famous expert in the field.
Two doctors recently made their own autistic disorder public in the Dutch medical magazine ‘Medisch Contact’. The way colleagues had reacted during their careers is telling: Don’t mention this to your teacher or your boss. It might cost you your internship or your job.
Apparently even amongst us doctors the notion that autism comes in gradations, is not common knowledge. ‘Autism means a lack of ability to put yourselves in someone’s shoes, so you can’t be a doctor.’ If we doctors think so, how is the broader public to understand that autism comes in many shapes and sizes? This makes it completely feasible to function as a doctor. And the same is true for all psychiatric disorders. So, famous people, politicians, intellectuals, actors, artists, CEO’s, journalists, sportspeople and other outstanding persons, come out of the closet with your psychiatric disorder, and help to make the abnormal more normal!
Amsterdam, Vos Beerthuis, psychiatrist
Next contributor will be AnnePauline Cohen, child and youth psychiatrist.