In today's enlightened age, polite people would never admit talking about mental illness is taboo. But it is. If you have a psychiatric illness, or someone you love does, you know it’s awkward to talk about. Raise the subject, and people mutter something vaguely sympathetic and find a way to move away from you or change the subject.
Then there's the taboo you feel within yourself. That was the experience of fourth-year Stanford Ph.D. Student Zack Burton, now a couple of years past his first psychotic break and diagnosis of bipolar disorder.
"Some of the stigma, that even I myself had toward mental illness, really made that recovery somewhat more difficult than the psychosis itself and the actual events surrounding my diagnosis," Burton said.
Searching online for information and community didn't help. "There’s this lack of relatable stories out there, which is very frightening when you’re sort of WebMDing symptoms and saying 'Will life ever be the same?' A lot of responses are saying ‘No, life will never be the same again.’"
Burton and his girlfriend, psychiatric clinical research coordinator Elisa Hofmeister, were willing to talk openly about what they were experiencing—only to discover people they thought they knew had been hiding their own experiences. "It was something like three or four of our closest friends who either had mental illness or had a parent who had mental illness. But we had never realized that before, even amongst very close friends," marveled Burton.