Let’s talk stigma. Most of us with a mental illness have been blamed for their condition or treated poorly because of it. We get told that our symptoms and struggles “aren’t that big of a deal”, its “a phase”, we “aren’t trying hard enough”, or “get over it we all have bad days”.
Stigma causes us to feel ashamed for something that is completely out of our control. Stigma is an unacceptable addition to the pain and hardship mental illness already brings.
Some of the more harmful effects of stigma can include:
- Reluctance to seek help or treatment
- Lack of understanding by family, friends, co-workers or others
- Fewer opportunities for work, school or social activities or trouble finding housing
- Bullying, physical violence or harassment
- Health insurance that doesn’t adequately cover your mental illness treatment
- The belief that you’ll never succeed at certain challenges or that you can’t improve your situation
How many of you have heard someone blame a person’s bad behavior on “being crazy”, or “so and so is so bipolar! They were such a jerk today to me”. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve heard someone blame a person’s bad behavior on a mental illness. When really, that person is just a jerk. I’ve met plenty of people without a mental illness that are rude, inconsiderate, cold, moody, and just plain assholes. I’ve also met plenty of people with those same qualities that have a mental illness. Conversely, I’ve met people with and without mental illness that are wonderful, caring, loving people. Why is poor behavior always associated with a mental illness?! These statements from others are frustrating, insulting, and unfair.
What can we do? How do we educate people about how hurtful these statements can be? How do we share our struggles and day to day challenges without experiencing some type of repercussion? How do we share this personal part of ourselves without it becoming the ONLY thing people see in us? What do we share about ourselves with new people? I don’t think any of these questions have an easy answer.
Here are some suggestions from National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) to help fight stigma.
- Talk openly about mental health. Don’t let stigma create self-doubt and shame. Chose empowerment.
- Don’t isolate yourself- Reach out to the people you trust for compassion and understanding.
- Educate yourself and others. Speak out against stigma
- Join a support group. Be honest about treatment and get treatment.
- Be conscious of language you and others use regarding mental health.
- Encourage equality between physical and mental illness- Would the same comments and feelings apply to a person with cancer, or diabetes?
Others’ judgements usually come from a lack of understanding and education rather than information based on actual fact. We need to work on accepting our conditions, educating ourselves, and seeking support when we need it. Be brave, be strong, be persistent. We need all of these qualities to face mental illness and to fight stigma. Mental Illness is not anyone’s fault. Together we can survive, thrive and persevere. We can do it!!
Check out this link from NAMI on Stigma.