What exactly is the mental health stigma? I can answer that for you.
Psychology Today divides the mental health stigma into two separate categories:
- Social Stigma. The Social Stigma “is characterized by prejudice attitudes and discriminating behavior directed towards individuals with mental health problems as a result of the psychiatric label they have been given.”
- Perceived/Self-Stigma. The Perceived/Self-Stigma “is the internalizing by the mental health sufferer of their perceptions of discrimination.”
The main reason I wanted to begin sharing my stories on this blog is so that we, as a community, can break down these walls, these stigmas. Who is it helping? No one. If anything, these stigmas are making individuals who suffer feel even worse, and that is the last thing we need. As a mental health sufferer and anxiety-prone individual, the prejudice attitude, whispers, laughter, and more absolutely go hand-in-hand with my own self-stigma. While I try my hardest to make most of my writings on here positive, showing readers the bright side, that it’s all going to be okay and that it doesn’t matter what others think, I can’t say I believe that every single day. The shame that comes from being diagnosed with a mental illness is almost debilitating. I remember the moment I was diagnosed at sixteen. My shoulders felt heavy and my eyes felt tired. I knew, in that moment, that I’d have to carry around my anxiety, my mental illness, forever. What will people think? What will they say? My family, my friends? How am I EVER going to find someone to love me despite all of this? That hurt, and still does, more than most people can know and understand.
I remember first sharing with a very close “friend” of mine that I was concerned there was more going on – that my excessive worrying was more than the norm. I thought he was someone I could confide in, someone I could trust, someone I could lean on, as he told me he was. I’ve never been so wrong.
“I don’t know, Katie,” he grumbled to me one day after I opened up to him again. He just rolled his eyes. I’d never seen him so annoyed before. “Go see a freaking doctor, or something.”
I did just that, but not because he told me too. Not because I wanted too. I was so upset and ashamed that he had acted that way, all because I was opening up – I wanted to shut down and never, ever, ever mention my innermost thoughts ever again. But after a serious breakdown in my house one day shortly after that, I knew I needed to go, and so I did.
I also remember the first time I told my three very best friends in the world that I’d started therapy. I was terrified that they’d leave. I was scared out of my mind that they’d be annoyed, or think it was weird or not normal and laugh at me, make fun of me, leave me in the dust…because that’s what had happened prior, and that’s what people with anxiety do. We worry over unfounded fears.
But instead of snickering, instead of making fun, getting irritated, or getting the hell out of there, they just hugged me. “We love you and we’re here for you.” I’m pretty sure I cried all day after that as a means of thanks.
A couple of days ago, I stumbled upon a campaign to try and end the stigma surrounding mental illness. The I Don’t Mind campaign was started by Christopher Wood, actor best known for his role on The CW drama series Supergirl. Chris began this movement after having dealt with personal family mental health issues, and now he is spreading the word and hoping to break down those barriers and push away the hate. Their campaign is as follows:
“A phrase becomes a movement. Our mission to defeat the stigma surrounding mental illness starts with a simple phrase: IDONTMIND.
By saying IDONTMIND, you can help break down the barrier of stigma and bring hope to those who are struggling and afraid to speak up. Together, we can generate positive messaging and find creative ways of reaching those who need encouragement.”
The moment I found this campaign, I immediately researched everything they had to offer – their social media pages, their website, the movement itself. I wanted nothing more than to get involved. So, I messaged them.
“I just wanted to say that what you guys are doing is wonderful and empowering. I struggle with mental illness, and it was only a few months ago that I started sharing my journey with others through a blog where I discuss anxiety. It hurts me to know that there are people out there who are afraid of sharing their story, like I was, due to the stigma surrounding mental illness – the stigma that it’s “not normal” or “not okay”, or whatever other thoughts individuals have about it. So thank you for doing this. I can’t wait to share this new, empowering message and show others that it’s okay (and necessary!) to speak up about their mental health. I’m happy and excited to be bringing awareness to such an important topic. Thank you!”
And as luck would have it, a response, I got.
“Hi Katie! Thank you so much for sharing your story – you are amazing and strong. We thank you for joining the #IDONTMIND fight to speak out and spread the message that no one suffers alone. We love you!”
THIS is the kind of response we need when someone opens up about their mental health.
Not a snicker or a laugh.
THIS is the kind of response we need when someone seems aloof or unfriendly, when in reality, internally, they’re just trying to get through a horrible day.
Not an eye roll and a groan.
THIS is the kind of response we need when someone says they’re not okay.
Not a scoff.
THIS is the kind of response we need when someone says they may need help.
I woke up to that message after a day of having multiple horrendous breakdowns due to my anxiety. I woke up to this after nearly 24 hours of straight worry. I saw this short, empowering message the morning after I’d cried and panicked in the arms of a loved one for a longer amount of time than I’d like to admit. I read these words hours after my social anxiety skyrocketed and had kept me from leaving the house. I had people telling me it was all going to be okay, people trying to help me to feel better and people reminding me that I am loved. And then a stranger who doesn’t know me or anything about me told me that I’m strong and that they love me, too.
In my struggle with anxiety, it’s hard to believe any of that some days. It’s hard to believe that everything will be okay, since I worry excessively. It’s hard to believe that I’m loved, since the stigma surrounding mental illness tells me otherwise. It’s hard not to panic, because my mind is constantly swirling with the worst of thoughts. But with the right people by your side, they can help to make it a little bit easier.
I was panic-stricken when I used to think about sharing my story. The thought of people, let alone a third-party therapist, knowing my innermost thoughts and feelings, knowing the most vulnerable parts of me terrified me to my very core. It still does a lot of the time. But I sought that help because I needed too, and I eventually found the strength and courage to start sharing my story so I can hopefully help others, too. #IDontMind sharing my story with you all, and #IDontMind listening to yours.
This is a note to people without mental health issues: Please do not take your healthy mind for granted. There are others out there struggling every single minute of every single day wishing for a healthy mind, if only for a few moments. You are so lucky. And each time you meet someone new, treat them with kindness. You never know what they may be going through. And if they’re quiet, aloof, distant, nervous, sensitive – try to remember that they’re probably just calming themselves down internally. Please remember that their mental illness is NOT a choice. And if they open up about their mental illness, don’t be a jerk. Please meet their openness and bravery with acceptance and kindness. Be caring. Be gentle. Be nice. We NEED it.
This is a note to people with mental health issues. You are strong and beautiful and loved. So am I. I know that. Maybe it’s not everyday that I believe that, but I know it deep down…and you need to remember that, too. If you need help, or need help to GET help, PLEASE SPEAK UP. Your mind matters. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health. Please let somebody help you. It makes a world of a difference. We need to stand together and we need to support one another in times of need. “We are only as strong as we are united, as weak as we are divided.” ~ JK Rowling
Mental Health Awareness Week may have only been from October 1st to the 7th, but with your help, we can continue to bring awareness to it every single day.
We are not alone.
Sometimes all we need is a little reassurance.
*Thank you to Chris Wood and the Supergirl cast for helping to normalize mental illness and for reminding individuals that it’s okay to not be okay. Words cannot express my thanks enough.