Anupa Iyer is being honored as a Champion of Change for embodying the next generation of leadership within the disability community and her commitment to the promise of the Americans with Disabilities Act.
Anorexic/Bulimic…Suicidal…Bi-polar…Institutionalized. These words don’t typically describe a Champion of Change, but they describe me. And these words describe countless others in our society who have a psychiatric disability but are too afraid to come out of the shadows and be themselves.
Because of social stigma, too many people who suffer from mental illness feel alone, powerless, and hopeless.
As I got better, I found reintegrating into society by working and living independently was not easy. I was unable to honestly explain the gaps on my resume to potential employers because I was afraid I wouldn’t get the job. When I did disclose to get an accommodation, my colleagues found out and started teasing me.
My experiences led me to discover, albeit the hard way, that the voices of individuals with mental illness have been quelled because of the stigma that society has placed on the disease. It motivated me to pursue a law degree.
I realized that in order to end the stigma around mental illness, people need to start sharing their lived experiences with psychiatric disabilities. We need to become strong self-advocates. I started talking about my mental illness in public forums to educate society members and policy makers about the issues people with psychiatric disabilities face. Recently, I started Self Advocates Now Empowered- to encourage others with psychiatric disabilities to be open about their disability and get engaged in legislative advocacy. While Self Advocates Now Empowered is still in its initial stages of development, I hope that by being a Champion for Change other people, particularly young adults with psychiatric disabilities will want to get involved, and thereby change the governing conversation around mental illness.
Stigma exists because people with psychiatric disabilities don’t challenge the misconceptions around mental illness. I hope to change that.
Anupa Iyer is the Founder of Self Advocates Now Empowered (SANE).