Olympic star talks about mental illness
A three-times Olympic runner who has battled bipolar disorder asked people yesterday to drop stigma towards mental illness so they can help others tackle their mental health problems.
Suzy Favor Hamilton explained that it could take a long time for someone to discuss their problems and it was even more difficult if they felt they would be judged.
She said: “The tragedy of having a stigma is that people can’t reach out for help.
“This is society, which is trying to hurt people in many ways.
“So, if you’re one of these people who feels the need to judge, judge your neighbour, or you live in a small community like it is here, take a look at yourself; look at the damage that you’re doing to that person.”
Ms Favor Hamilton, from Wisconsin, added that it was important for people to take a look at themselves.
She said: “You are not perfect, the one who is judging, you’re only hurting.”
The 51-year-old is on the island for The Royal Gazette Bermuda Triangle Challenge this weekend and will speak at a pre-race dinner at the Hamilton Princess hotel tomorrow evening.
She said: “It takes somebody a long time to get the courage, not everybody, but a lot of people who live in a community where there is a stigma and judgment, it takes them a long time to get the courage to get help.
“Even though they may know they need it, they don’t feel like they can.”
She added: “Look at a psychiatrist as a beautiful thing; don’t we all deserve to live our best life?
“We all need a psychologist.”
Ms Favor Hamilton explained that the difference between the specialists is that a psychiatrist prescribed medication and a psychologist talked to their patients and “helped to sort out whatever demons you have going on in your life”.
She told a group at The Royal Gazette office yesterday about her years as an athlete, when she was at one time the fastest middle-distance woman in the world.
However, the athlete ended her track career with a deliberate fall in a 1,500 metres race at the 2000 Sydney Olympics when she realised she would not win a medal.
After the birth of her daughter, Kylie, now 14, which she said was the “the best gift”, she had suicidal thoughts.
When she told her husband, Mark Hamilton, he made sure that she saw a doctor, who prescribed antidepressants.
Ms Favor Hamilton said that it was important for patients who struggled with mental health problems to tell their doctors about any family history of mental problems. She added her brother suffered from bipolar disorder and killed himself in 1999.
Ms Favor Hamilton said the drugs lifted her mood, to the point where she wanted to try skydiving, something she would never have considered before, and she and her husband went to Las Vegas where they went parachuting.
She also took part in activities that she later realised were a symptom of her condition.
Ms Favor Hamilton later returned to Las Vegas where she became an escort, with her husband’s consent, and led a double life until she was “outed” by a client who said he wanted to marry her.
She was exposed on The Smoking Gun website, which triggered wider attention and criticism.
Ms Favor Hamilton later recognised that risky behaviour, hypersexuality and excessive spending were all linked to her condition.
Her suicidal thoughts returned and, after Ms Favor Hamilton went to see a psychiatrist, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and started the “incredibly hard” process of recovery.
She wrote a book about her experiences called, Fast Girl — A Life Spent Running from Madness, which became a New York Times bestseller and she is now a life coach and public speaker.
Ms Favor Hamilton explained that it was important for parents to communicate with their children to help them become aware of any problems.
She said: “Bipolar develops in late teens, early 20s; that’s a very common age.
“Somebody with bipolar can be very deceiving and very good at hiding behaviour, so if you do see them maybe pull back or the bedroom door is locked all the time or they’re spending, or you notice maybe they’re having some crazy sexual behaviour that you weren’t aware of ... there’s always the door to open with your child — be willing to start that dialogue.
Ms Favor Hamilton added: “I always find it helpful when parents tell stories about their own life, because children grow up thinking their parents are perfect, and to be able to share those stories and realise ‘OK, I screwed up too, I made mistakes, those mistakes have helped me to be a better person’, it’s very important.”
• If you need support or are experiencing suicidal thoughts, please seek professional help or call the Mid-Atlantic Wellness Institute’s 24-hour crisis line on 239-1111
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