Credit: Mike Veny
Credit: Mike Veny
What do you think of when you hear that a person has “mental health challenges”? If you are like most of society, you probably get a little nervous and uneasy. You might think of mass shootings or the book “Sybil” or a TV show like “Homeland.”
A stigma surrounds mental health, and this stigma says that you should be scared of someone who struggles with their mental health because they are “crazy” or dangerous, when this is simply not true. People with severe mental illnesses are “over 10 times more likely to be victims of violent crime than the general population,” while most people with mental illness are not violent. This stigma tells those that live with mental health challenges that they should be ashamed of their differences.
It’s this stigma that gets in the way of making progress in mental health treatment. But mental health challenges cover a wide spectrum, and treatment is often the help that so many need. A person could struggle with mild depression on occasion or live with severe schizophrenia. When we group all “mental illness” (a term that I believe needs to go away) into one, it’s easy to jump to conclusions. But here’s the truth — mental health applies to everyone.
When we discuss the subject of health, it includes our physical health and our mental health. Just like when it comes to physical health challenges, I don’t believe there is a person in this world who can get through life without struggling with a mental health challenge at some point. For instance, one in five American adults has experienced a mental health issue, according to MentalHealth.gov. It could be postpartum depression after giving birth, anxiety through a rough time in life, or depression during a period of grief. Everywhere you look there are people struggling with mental health challenges, and that’s why we need to transform the stigma that surrounds it. That’s why I wrote the book “Transforming Stigma: How to Become a Mental Wellness Superhero.”
The need for ‘Transforming Stigma’
Not only is there a stigma around “mental illness” or mental health challenges, but the more I really started to think about my own experiences and do some research, the more I began to spot a cycle as well. The cycle applies to those that experience mental health challenges and those that love someone who has mental health challenges.
The Stigma Cycle works like this:
It starts with shame. The person themselves is ashamed of their own challenges. It’s easy to feel embarrassed over the struggles that we face, especially when those around us just don’t understand. Shame can impact our loved ones too. The loved ones of someone who is struggling can feel ashamed of the behavior of the person.
Shame leads to silence. What happens when you feel ashamed about something? If you are like most people, you will try to hide whatever it is that you are ashamed of. The same thing happens with mental health. If you are ashamed of your struggle, you hide it instead of talking about it. If you are ashamed of the behavior of your loved one, you might try to cover for them and hide what is really going on. The last thing that you want, whether you are the one suffering or trying to support someone, is to talk about the challenges you are facing.
Silence leads to sabotage, self-destructive behavior, social injustice, and even suicide. We can’t fix something that we are trying to hide and not talk about. If you struggle with mental health, this is the place where you begin to feel isolated and alone, like you are the only person dealing with these types of challenges. This isolation can lead to worsening depression, self-harm, and sometimes suicide attempts. If you love a person with mental health challenges, your silence can lead to your own struggle with mental health challenges and stop your loved one from getting the help that they need.
This cycle goes around and around, pulling you further into the depths of mental health despair, until you choose to confront the stigma and stop the cycle.
What you can expect from my book
I don’t want to spiral around this cycle one more time, and I don’t want to see anyone else live that way, either. That’s the reason I wrote my book. It was for myself and for you. We will never truly transform the stigma if we are too afraid to address the elephant in the room.
In this book, I hold nothing back and share my personal experiences from my challenges with mental health. This is not a book written from a medical perspective. It is the nitty-gritty of what it really looks like when you live with mental health challenges. The book is also a guide on how to change your own perspective about living with mental health challenges. It provides you with actionable steps and tips you can apply to your life to stop the Stigma Cycle that you are living with. And, if you don’t personally struggle with challenges due to your mental health, you will find an abundance of information that will help you to see the situation through someone else’s eyes. You will learn what part you can play in changing the stigma.
I believe we can all become mental wellness superheroes, transforming the stigma into acceptance.
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Mike Veny is one of America’s leading mental health speakers and a high energy corporate drumming event facilitator. He delivers educational, engaging, and entertaining presentations to meetings and conferences throughout the world. As a 2017 PM360 ELITE Award Winner, Mike was recognized as one of the 100 most influential people in the healthcare industry. He starred in several OC87 Recovery Diaries documentary films. Check out his compelling TEDx talk, Mental Illness is An Asset.