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A Personal Stand Against the Stigma of Mental Health


Mental Health Awareness Month in May

May is mental health awareness month and we are reminded to stop the stigma surrounding mental health. Understanding Mental Health is so important when supporting those who struggle with it. Stigma, prejudice, and discrimination against people with mental illness are still prevalent issues, causing harm and hindering individuals from seeking the help they need. As someone who has personally experienced the negative effects of mental health stigma, I feel it's important to dispell the myths and work towards changing the stigma that goes along with it.


The Impact of Stigma on Seeking Treatment

The reality of mental health stigma is a bitter truth that casts a long shadow over the lives of many, including my own. In my late teenage years, following a particular incident, I've grappled with depression. This journey has been anything but easy, especially when faced with the reactions of those around me. Rather than finding solace and understanding, sometimes I was met with judgment and ridicule. The names I was called and the jokes made at my expense by individuals I once trusted have left deep scars, showcasing the pervasive and destructive nature of stigma surrounding mental health.


This stigma isn't just a series of uncomfortable encounters; it's a barrier. It's a battle that has to be fought against our own minds and for some...it's every day. The jokes, the whispers, rumors and the outright discrimination reinforce an environment where silence feels like the only safe haven. Remaining silent, however, is a double-edged sword, one that cuts deep and isolates us from potential support and healing.


My experiences are not unique, nor are they isolated incidents. They reflect a systemic issue that thrives in the shadows of misunderstanding and fear. Each taunt or dismissive attitude I've encountered underscores the profound lack of awareness and empathy that permeates our society. It's this very lack of compassion that perpetuates the cycle of stigma, making the path to recovery not just a personal battle, but a societal one.

Confronting the stigma of mental health isn't about pointing fingers or assigning blame. It's about recognizing the impact our words and actions have on those bravely facing their battles. Despite whether it's situational or chronic, the journey towards healing and understanding begins with acknowledging the reality of the stigma and its deep-seated effects. It's a sad reality, but one that we must face head-on if we ever hope to foster a more supportive community.


The High Cost of Silence and Isolation

The moment I decided to be open about my own battles with depression, I was met with reactions that ranged from complete support and acceptance to avoidance and ridicule. People I considered friends, those I thought would stand by me, used my vulnerability against me. Their responses weren't just hurtful; they fundamentally altered how I viewed the possibility of seeking further treatment. The fear that my honesty could lead to repercussions or losing friendships—was paralyzing. This isn't an unfounded fear; it's rooted in the very real consequences that stigma can produce.

There were moments when the prospect of getting help seemed like a distant dream, not because resources weren't available, but because the societal backlash felt insurmountable. The judgment I faced when I first opened up about my struggles made me question if seeking treatment was worth the risk of further alienation and misunderstanding. This internal conflict is a direct result of the stigma that shrouds mental health discussions—a stigma that convinces us our battles aren't valid, or worse, that they're burdensome to others.

Each time I hesitated to make an appointment or reach out to a therapist, I was reminded of the faces that turned away when I needed support or being told I needed to "just snap out of it." It's a harrowing realization, understanding that the same people who could offer a helping hand are instead part of a barrier that keeps many from accessing the help they need. Perhaps you're in a situation and your diagnosis is being used as blackmail. For example; if you're going through a divorce, know it's not ok to be threatened to use your mental illness as leverage for custody or that if you don't do something your ex wants you to do, he will tell the person you're newly dating about your diagnosis, as means to scare them off. Know both of those are not right and don't be bullied by an actual bully. While navigating these challenges, I've learned that the journey to recovery is as much about finding resilience within as it is about changing the narrative around mental health.


So...what are the facts?

  • Mental illness is prevalent. 1 in 5 individuals have a mental health diagnosis and over 50% do not get treatment.

  • Mental illness is a real disease. Just like heart disease and diabetes, mental illness is a legitimate illness.

  • You can treat mental illness. Innovations in medicine and therapy make recovery a reality for people living with mental illness.

  • A mental illness does not make a person more likely to be violent or dangerous. People living with mental illness are actually more likely to be victims of violence; they are victimized 4x more than the general public

 

What can we do?

Use respectful, person-first language

  • “She has depression” not “shee is depressed”

  • “He is living with bipolar disorder” not “he is bipolar”

  • “They died by suicide” not “they committed suicide”

Eliminate the use of labeling

  • Avoid saying things like “schizo, psycho, demented, crazy, whack job, lunatic, nuts”

  • Do not ridicule them or say things like, "she needs to be in a padded room," or threaten to tell other's, "does (x person) know you've been in a mental institution?"


The person is not defined by their disease

A mental illness does not make someone any less of a person. Just like a person with a health diagnosis, someone diagnoses with a mental illness simply has different experiences that not everyone has to face and has to learn to live with the diagnosis and/or work to overcome it.

  • Offer support to people with a mental illness, caretakers and families

  • Be an active listener and let people tell their story without judgement

  • Show empathy, even if you don’t fully understand the person’s experience

  • Talk openly about stigma and challenge misconceptions when you hear them

  • Share knowledge and facts about mental illness with others


Challenging Stigma Through Education and Understanding

Throughout my own experience with depression, I realized the power that knowledge and empathy hold in dispelling the myths surrounding mental health. I've seen how ignorance and fear contribute to stigma, making it difficult for people to speak openly or seek assistance. It took me almost 16 years following an incident to realize it wasn't my fault and the depression I struggled with afterwards would be something that comes and goes. Perhaps for the rest of my life, based off environment and triggers. I've worked so hard to know what I can control, what I can't control, what triggers me, and coping mechanisms. This realization along with hearing other's stories of similar experiences, led me to want to advocate for education as a tool to combat these prejudices.


Through my own experiences, I learned that one of the most profound steps we can take to challenge stigma is fostering an environment where mental health education is prioritized. Sharing stories of mental illness, highlighting the scientific facts, and debunking the common misconceptions can shift perceptions and create a foundation of empathy and understanding. By incorporating mental health education into schools, workplaces, and community programs, we not only address stigma head-on but also empower individuals to recognize and support those in need. By replacing judgement with support, we can see the diagnosis doesn't define who the person is.


It's through the lens of empathy and knowledge that we can truly begin to challenge and overcome the stigma of mental health; because YOU matter.


xoxo,

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