Fight for Mental Health by Destroying Stigma

Patient Expert

Hi, I’m Jackie and I take medication for depression, and I post on the internet about my bouts with depression and past suicidal thoughts. I do it because it’s important to talk about these things. Sure, it makes some people uncomfortable, but I don't do it for those people. I talk about depression and mental health for people like me who are chronically ill and are worried about stigma.

Three out of four people with mental illness say they have experienced stigma.

So what exactly is it? According to Webster's Dictionary, stigma is "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person." When we talk about the stigma surrounding mental health, we know that for hundreds, if not thousands of years, in countless cultures, people with mental disorders were locked away and forgotten — or worse.

Fast forward to 2016. The stigma we deal with now is, in large part, due to a lack of education and understanding — which is bananas, because roughly 1 in 20 Americans experiences depression in their lifetime. Millions of people live with depression, but few people talk openly about it because everyone is embarrassed, and they’re embarrassed because so few people talk about it.

So let’s talk about it.

'Crazy'? Not so muchIn some ways, the stigma of mental illness is hardly surprising, especially when one considers that we are taught by popular culture society and even in popular movies or TV shows to scoff at mental illness is something we can scoff at.** How many times have you heard someone use “crazy” as an insult to another person?** What about, “You’re a psycho”?

These phrases have become normalized, and while we don’t generally refer to people with mental disorders as crazy or psychotic anymore, the root problem is still there; crazy is bad, and people who are crazy are bad, and they should feel ashamed about how bad they are.

But people with mental illnesses are not bad. They may feel bad, but it doesn’t mean they are inherently bad people. Let’s change that conversation to talk about the positive characteristics that so many people with mental illnesses have.

_  Credit: Jackie Zimmerman_

Bravery

It can be hard and discouraging to talk about mental illness, but those who are able to do it often show remarkable bravery. It is because of patients like this, and patient-driven movements, that the stigma is beginning to slowly lift. Brené Brown, Ph.D., has said that “Owning our story and loving ourselves through that process is the bravest thing we’ll ever do.

I encourage you to own your story, to share it, and to love yourself for your own courage along the way.

Compassion

Feeling like you’re alone in the world, or like no one understands you, can be incredibly isolating, and is often compounded by the fact that many patients isolate themselves when they’re feeling depressed. In my experience, people who struggle with their own mental health are usually deeply compassionate when they encounter someone who feels alone, or is self-isolating. They show compassion when it comes to illnesses or behaviors that they do not understand, and instead of questioning a circumstance, often just ask what they can do to help.

Resilience

As someone who has two chronic illnesses and long-term depression, I consider myself super-resilient. I don’t always bounce back quickly or gracefully, but I have learned that with time and effort I will always bounce back. Depression often tells us that we are not worthy of many things, including friends, happiness, love, and understanding. Resilience is listening to this message on repeat every day, but also continuing to make an effort to participate in life every day.

World Mental Health Day

October 10 is World Mental Health Day, a collective global effort to raise awareness and educate for mental health. It is estimated that 350 million people worldwide live with depression. That is 350 million chances to educate those around us. To destroy stigma.

Here are some things you can do to show the world that it’s okay to talk about mental health not just on World Mental Health Day, but every day:

  • Post a link to the World Health Organization with information about World Mental Health Day

  • Update your Facebook status with one sentence stating that you or someone you love has struggled with mental health

  • If you’re daring, write a blog post about your experience with mental health and post it for your friends and family to see

  • Start conversations! Talk to people who are close to you about mental health and how it's affected your life

Each and every effort you make, whether small or large, can have a huge impact. Humanize those living with mental disorders, teach compassion, and be proud of who you are and the steps you take to help yourself. Every time I start to feel a little shame about my mental health and history, I remind myself that my medication and therapy appointments keep me happy and healthy. It may take a little more effort to keep me happy and healthy, but those extra steps make each day worth living.


Jackie is an ulcerative colitis patient and the founder and Executive Director of Girls With Guts. Since diagnosis, she has been blogging her IBD journey at Blood, Poop, and Tears. Jackie has worked hard to become a strong voice in the patient advocacy community, and pays it forward as Social Ambassador of the IBDHealthCentral Facebook page.