Stigma

I’m happy that you are so comfortable with your illness to bring it forward to help others. My concern is not everyone will use the information for positive help. They may judge and hurt you and that scares me. – Anonymous

Stigmas suck. What I’ve found to be worst of all is the self-stigma I’ve developed. I’ve accepted the negative perceptions of others and I’ve internalized it. During every episode I’ve ever had, I’ve called myself crazy. As most of my posts reflect past events, I refer to those negative thoughts often. I am trying my best to continue countering those thoughts with positive affirmations in hopes that eventually my brain will not think those things in the first place. However, old habits die hard.

I call myself crazy before anyone else does, it helps make light of my situation. I consider it a defense mechanism. It makes it easier to cope when I feel in control. – Kate F.

I used to end conversations with “I’m sorry for being so crazy.” I realized that was self-deprecating and wasn’t helping me long term. Besides, people who care about you want to listen to what you have to say, they want to help. So now, I almost always replace “I’m sorry,” for “Thank you.” For instance, “I’m sorry I’m emotional right now” is replaced with “Thank you for listening to me.” You deserve to be heard and a small change in your own speech might remind you of that. – Julia W.

Not only do individuals deal with the negative impacts of self-stigma, but also with public stigma. Imagine that you have a disease that controls your brain, affecting your thoughts, your feelings and your actions. Imagine you have mental illness. 4 in 5 of you are imagining while 1 in 5 don’t  have to. For a disease that is so common, I think it’s very possible to fight the stigma. Stigmas create great fear of association and silence. No one wants to have a mental illness. There are people that don’t want to be associated with anyone that has mental illness. For those reasons, it’s difficult to admit to having mental illness.

It tends to make people uncomfortable. They don’t really know what to say. I feel like they think I’m being dramatic, or seeking attention. But neither of those things are true. Of course I have people in my life who care, but it’s hard to find someone who can empathize on a personal level and truly understand what it feels like to be in your position, instead of just listening and judging the situation as something it’s not.  – Aileen S.

I want to emphasize the comment on being perceived as seeking attention because it makes me cringe! I don’t vent for attention, I vent for help. I fight this self-stigma every day writing posts for this blog, but I continue. The stigma and the fear it creates is why I’m considered brave by many people for sharing my stories publically. I wish that were not the case. I share my stories in order to encourage people to share theirs, to help normalize mental health discussions, to promote helpful resources, to help people understand that their feelings are real and that getting help is okay.

Nobody wants to think they need help. Nobody wants to see, to know, to accept that the biggest obstacle they face in life comes from within. Symptoms may be life-lasting, but if it’s diagnosed and treated properly, it can be manageable. Open up to people often and listen to others when they open up to you. Ask for help. – Julia W.

Sharing your story with others helps to break down both stigmas. However, doing so publically is terrifying – I know. I’ve set a personal goal to reach out to 5 individuals each week to learn their story and to share mine. I encourage you to give it a try because sometimes reaching out to complete strangers can feel more comfortable and their openness and support may surprise you. I, for one, have built an incredible support group and community by doing just this. I feel empowered by connecting with them and knowing that there are people all over the world experiencing what I am. That I am not alone.

Maybe you aren’t ready to share your experiences with anyone yet – that’s okay! You can help in other ways. Educate yourself and educate others while being cautious of the language you use. There are countless organizations and charities that are dedicated to mental health awareness. Getting involved and continuing to learn allows us to put efforts towards equality for physical and mental illness as well as gain confidence to speak out about mental health in general. In an upcoming post, Healthy Coping, you will receive suggestions for managing mental illness. Finding which methods work best for you and continually implementing them will help you live a fulfilled life. This will help you gain control for your own purposes, but at the same time the public is gaining perspective by recognizing that we are not just mentally ill: we are humans with so much to offer. Be mindful of what is within your control and what is not. We cannot control others and their perceptions, but my hope is that if we all focus on controlling ourselves and eliminating self-stigma, we will lead change within others.

Stigmas add unnecessary pain and burden upon individuals already suffering. Join me in my commitment to battle acceptance and internalization of stigmas within ourselves. Together, we will make a difference.

Please watch this video and consider signing the petition in the following link to participate in the movement to make mental health services accessible. http://speakable.org

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