There exist many layers of stigma surrounding mental health conditions as well as self-harm and suicide. In this article I would like to explore what stigma is, debunk a few misconceptions and highlight a few truths, as well as open up this article to a make-shift series because, as always, I find I have too much to say on this topic.
First, I found a good article by Samantha Gluck from The Healthy Place that defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace or reproach and the negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of a whole person.” Stigma is high amongst those of us living with a mental health condition. I, for one, do not like using the term “mental illness” because I feel stigma is highly attached to it, like a ball on a chain and instead, I prefer the phrase “mental health condition.” In my earlier days of article writing I would use the phrase “mental health issues”–and I changed it eventually due to my own personal preference.
Stigma is like this invisible force field that strikes those who suffer with a mental health condition, their family, their peers and society as a whole. Stigma is rooted in language and how people may treat you differently once they hear that you struggle with a mental health condition. Stigma is often times going hand-in-hand with discrimination. Stigma is like this icky, dark shadow that whispers evil in your ear on top of the shadows of actual mental health conditions, when you’re trying your hardest to just stay afloat. Stigma causes many people year-round to deny their troubles with their mental health, think the condition is “their fault” (or their parent’s fault), and overall paints a picture that those of us living with mental health conditions are inherently “violent” or “destructive” and “defective” to those around us. Stigma prevents people from reaching out for help. Stigma is an ugly force that blames problematic behaviors as “attention-seeking” or “a cry for help.” Stigma is the reason some people don’t tell their families that they’re struggling, that don’t tell their workplace that they struggle and that incites further shame and self-blame about struggling in the first place. Self-stigma comes in the form of thinking we are “bad” or “wrong”, that we aren’t really struggling “that bad”, that we don’t “deserve” help or recovery or fair treatment.
Stigma is a liar. Stigma is as deceitful as the mental health condition a person may be struggling with–it is lying to you, telling you things that you fear may be true and couldn’t be further from the truth.
What is the truth? Well, one in five adult Americans will live with a mental health condition in their lifetime. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) on their website (nami.org) states “that having a mental health condition does not make a person more likely to be violent or dangerous. The truth is, living with a mental health condition makes you more likely to be a *victim* of violence, four times the rate of the general public.”
To other misconceptions relevant to this article, NAMI states that “a mental illness does not make someone any less of a person. They are not broken or odd; they just have different experiences that not everyone has to face.
“Everyone can help those living with mental illness by speaking and acting in a way that preserves personal dignity. If you are a part of removing mental illness stigma in our society you are helping everyone affected by a condition. Two easy ways to do this are: using person-first language. This means that a person is not their illness; an example would be saying “she lives with depression” not “she is depressed.” Do not use offensive slang. A person with a mental health condition is not “crazy,” “psycho,” “insane,” or “loony.” When you use these words you are implying again that a person is solely their illness.”
NAMI also declares that “like any other disease, there are periods of time where a person is particularly unwell and may need a short hospital stay, but very few stay longer than a week or two. Many people with mental health conditions live productive, happy and healthy lives.”
There is an article I wish to write, likely under a different title, all about NAMI: their mission as a non-profit organization, their modes of advocacy, how you or others can get involved and so on.
Stigma is an ongoing conversation that we all deserve to speak out against. Your voice is, and will always be, worth sharing. In part II of this series I will discuss my own personal experiences facing stigma.
Wrote this Thursday April 12.2018. Hoping to upload part 2 tomorrow so if I wish to refer back to this situation in therapy tomorrow, I can do so. Hope you enjoy the read!! Part 2 will be up at noon. Super tired and need some rest! I’ll be having an update post some time this weekend.
Much love and light to you all! ❤ ❤ ❤