There are many, many mental illnesses and it is not within the wishes of the author to disclose all of those issues within this single article. The opinions presented here come from an all encompassing viewpoint of Mental illness. Views stated within this article are opinions founded on research and experience. Please, treat it as such.
Ladies and gentleman, I want to ask a question that may/may not have crossed your minds. That question is this:
Is the stigma surrounding Mental Illness real?
Odd question to ask but it is truly something that has plagued my mind in recent moments. When I speak with most mentally ill men and women, they are sure to mention some kind of discrimination they’ve received at the hands of someone in their life because of their specific illness. Ironically enough, when I speak with those outside of the Mental Health arena, they are quick to say that they have had limited interaction with those who are mentally ill and do not ever recall being discriminatory against anyone of that nature.
I suppose, after the above thought, a more specific wording of my question would sound like this:
Is it all in our heads?
Before I dive in to my main question, I want to discuss what this supposed stigma is. I’ve had this said to me before: “What’s this stigma you talk so much about?” As defined by Psychology Today, it is the “characterization by prejudicial attitudes and discriminating behaviour directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.” (Article found here) It’s the label that mentally ill men and women are more dangerous than the “normal” community and must be treated with great (dis)regard. In more honest terms, it means that we’re freaks and other people should do everything they can to avoid us; maybe that’s a tad overdramatic. Anyways…
Interestingly enough, Psychology Today lists two types of stigmas in the quoted article: Social and Self. What I described above is social but self stigma is another beast entirely. Instead of the derogatory action coming from an external source, those hesitations/judgments/discriminations come from, you guessed it, within yourself. This fact further begs my question: Is it all in our heads?
What if the stigma is imaginary? Fiction? All part of a land of “make-believe”? Would you not agree that we (the mentally ill) find ourselves to be our own worst enemies when it comes to the battle of our minds? Our brain is sick, it’s not operating in its fullest of capacities. What if, because of our mental struggle/pain (probably caused by other people) we’ve created a monster called “stigma” to provide a blanket of protection for our damaged hearts?
I mean, think about it. We’re used to building up protective walls to keep the pain out. What if this is just another one of those walls? What if this is our fail-proof booby trap that no one can get past? It gives us a chance to stay isolated, secluded. Basically, it’s a justification for wallowing in our sickness. But…
What if it is real?
Let’s be honest, we have all seen the media outlets that label mass murderers as “mentally ill”.
I’m sure those terms have been tossed around the block once or twice. It seems that the world’s classic fall back line is “Oh, they were just sick mentally”. Unfortunately, this feeds the notion that all mentally ill people are dangerous, unstable, and untrustworthy. It’s almost a given that at any point we could snap. What happens then? Well, people keep their distance!
Shall we continue the honesty train? It’s not that easy to talk to us when we’re in the middle of one of our “attacks”. In fact, it’s really not that easy to talk to us period. We’re isolated folk. We’ve shut down to the majority of the world. It’s a scary place! Therefore, when a “normal” person tries to talk to us, what happens? Silence. Stuttering. Anxiety. We freeze! What does that produce out of the other person? Probably an incredible amount of frustration.
You know, I harp a lot on those who are ignorant of the mental health arena but can we really blame them? Yes and no. Yes for the simple fact that they could take the time to learn about our issues and do their best to help us. No, because if they did try we would probably shut down anyway and cut off any attempt they make at loving us.
What I’m saying is that this battle is a two way street.
If we want to end the stigma surrounding mental illness we all have to learn to get along. That means that those who are ignorant need to get “edumecated” and those who are ill need to learn how to open up again. It’s risky for both sides of the equation. It opens up the chance for more pain, frustration, and isolation. Can you imagine the rewards of such a thing though? We could actually end this. The world might actually learn how to accept the mentally ill for who they are. The mentally ill might actually start trusting the world again as a “not so scary place”.
Wouldn’t that be nice?
So, to answer my first question: Yes, the stigma surrounding Mental Health is real. It’s very real. Unbeknownst to most people though, it doesn’t just exist in the outside world (meaning those who don’t suffer). The stigma also exists in the mentally ill’s mind.
If we want to end the stigma surrounding mental illness, education and trust need to be at the center of our efforts. Take some time today and do your part.
Change is possible.
Be the change you want to see in the world.
Sound off in the comments with your thoughts, questions, or concerns. Much love to you all!