Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, but stigma and bias shame us all. – Bill Clinton
And yet, three out of four people suffering from mental illness report to be experiencing the stigma associated with mental illness. There is no denying that the stigma is out there. Fortunately, society is slowly gaining more awareness of mental health. Still, the stigma isn’t completely gone; it’s merely lurking in the shadows.
I have repeatedly encountered stigma myself. I’ve watched people change their attitudes towards me as they find out I take medication for my mental illness. I’ve had to deal with rejection and being shamed by the people closest to me. I witnessed the eye roll accompanying the word crazy; and the ease with which people label and classify others. Truth be told, it did not make me feel better. In fact, it has stopped me from coming forward and reaching out for help when needed for fear of the reaction. It has made me feel guilty, ashamed and second class. And it shouldn’t have.
The toughest battle I have to deal with, though, is self stigma. Unfortunately, people with mental illness are aware of the stereotypes about them. Knowing those stereotypes, has made me very self conscious, which means from awareness it has gone to internalization. The more those stereotypes, generalizations and misconceptions are internalized, the more my self esteem plummets. And when self esteem is low, it is a lot harder to reach out for help when needed.
It’s hard for me to talk about stigma when every day is spent judging myself and beating myself up for what I’m not. It’s almost foolish to expect people not to judge when I degrade myself in my own heart. Sadly, though, self stigma is a direct result of public stigma.
Dear friend, I’m writing to both of us today – you and me. I will work harder to accept myself for who I am, with my flaws. I will reach out for help when I need it. I promise not to let the stigma get the better of me. And please, in turn, don’t judge. Accept, respect and don’t expect. Educate yourself and try to get rid of those negative beliefs. Every single person makes a difference in fighting the stigma. You. And me.
Let’s bust the stigma.