Stigma

Approximately 49 million live with mental illness each year. This includes anxiety, depression, autism, bipolar, PTSD and schizophrenia. It’s indiscriminate, affecting young and old, men and women, people of all races and ethnicities. 49 million. That’s 20% of the population, 1 of 5.

I am that one. I live with bipolar depression. I was a teenager when the symptoms first presented, but it would be almost fifteen years after that before I got the help I needed. Why?

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Stigma is a cultural response to a problem it doesn’t understand. We may no longer lock up mental patients in asylums, or lobotomize them hoping that will fix the problem, but we continue to view others negatively, or with apathy, because we don’t understand their mental health condition, leaving them to deal with the feelings of shame and judgement, real or perceived. They confuse feeling bad with being bad; and perpetuate the cycle of stigma themselves.

Navigating life with a mental health condition is tough enough. When you add in the isolation, blame and secrecy that is often encouraged by stigma, this creates challenges in reaching out and getting needed support. Even in a day and age when mental illness can be successfully treated, less than half of the adults in the U.S. who need services and treatment get the help they need because of the stigma they hear in casual conversation:

“Go get exercise, get some sun in your face; that’ll help you get over it.”

“It’s just weakness.”

“It’s not a mental illness, it’s life and everyone has to deal with it at some point.”

“Toughen up.”

Or from family:

“You could fix if you would just snap out of it.”

“You just need to make some friends, talk to people.”

“What happens at home, stays at home. You don’t want to be labeled.”

“She’s just looking for attention.”

Even in church:

“You need to have some faith.”

“You don’t need pills, you just need to pray.”

“What do you have to be sad about?”

“This is just a test. God never gives us more than we can handle.”

Those words may come with good intentions, but we need to understand their outcome, how they affect the person hearing them. Would you tell a cancer patient to bootstrap it? Or someone with a debilitating disease that it’s all in their heads? No. Our words matter. And it’s time we started using them to help heal each other.

“Thank us for sharing your truth and trusting me with it.”

“It takes courage to share.”

“What can I do to help you?”

“I’m really proud of you for taking care of yourself, I know that isn’t easy. You’re doing a great job.”

“You’re not alone.”

Stigma would have us believe that we have to suffer in silence. That we have to hide our pain, but God never made us to do this alone. You don’t have to hide, you don’t have to pretend you’re okay if you’re not. Because you’re not alone. Whether you are either one of the five or you know someone who is, we are all in this together. So let’s love each other, show compassion, empathy, search for understanding. And that is the way we’ll change this culture of stigma.

#MentalHealthAwarenessMonth #MentalHealth #MentalWellness #YouAreNotAlone

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