Mental Health Stigma: Airing our Dirty Laundry
It happened again the other night. A person that I largely respect asked me about my Mental Health Awareness ribbon. Happy to have an opportunity to discuss mental health, I explained that the lime green ribbon represents bringing mental health into the limelight. This person retorted:
"There are so many crazies."
"Why talk about it? Lock them up and end the threat to society."
Whoa, whoa whoa and WHOA. I took a deep breath while deciding whether or not I wanted to attend this "argument." I decided that I could sit and stew over his comments or I could address them. I looked him square in the eye and said, "I am one of those crazies. I share an address with PTSD, anxiety and bipolar disorder. One-in-four persons share an address with a mental health condition. There are likely others in this room who also suffer. We work, own homes, raise families, vote and contribute to society in the ways we know best."
This person replied that we should not air our dirty laundry.
Mental health stigma resides everywhere
Stigma resides everywhere, especially mental health stigma. The urge to quiet the voices of those who live with challenges, those who are different or those whose choices don't mirror the "norm," seems to be overwhelming as of late. "Don't air your dirty laundry." How many of us heard that admonition as children? When we talk about mental illness, too often there are only two approaches discussed: sick or well, right or wrong. We talk about strong people and the weak people, those who feed their depression and mental illness and those who stoically rise above. When we talk about mental health in such limited parameters, we strip it of the crippling humanity that makes it possible: agony, loneliness, shame, trauma and stigma. We just tell people to think the right way, get the right amount of sleep and exercise, take the right meds, and when they don’t, we tell them to go away. In our current society, the mentally ill are considered the disease as much as the illness itself.
Here's the rub: Change and recovery occur when things are faced. An acquaintance asked me recently why I speak openly about mental health recovery and surviving domestic violence and sexual assault. This well-meaning person felt that by airing my "dirty laundry," I would cause myself more pain. Actually the opposite is true. When the mentally ill speak openly, others know they are not alone. Others learn what worked and what didn't. By speaking - at first a whisper, then a roar - we lessen pain's power. We learn to cope, we change the norm and we affect the changes we want to see.
Be part of the conversation
There is a well-known saying in mental health and social work circles:
"Nothing about us, without us."
Only by being part of the conversation can we affect legislation, self-advocate for better care and show society that those with mental health conditions can live healthy, productive lives.
Why should we stand up and "air our dirty laundry?" To help those unaffected by mental illness but whom are the gatekeepers of the systems we need access to, to understand our reality. Because it reflects one-in-four person's realities. Because stigma born from misconceptions can only be corrected by those who are affected. Because society needs to see us living lives and being productive with the proper treatment. Because we learn the most from those whose voices society tries the most to silence.
Ways to Gently Advocate for Mental Health
- Wear a mental health awareness ribbon. The color for mental health awareness is lime green, representative of bring mental health into the limelight and out of the shadows.
- Tell your truth. Stand up and share your journey. Yes, people listen when a celebrity talks about it but everyday people are courageous today. Any day that you get up and face the dragon and decide to live joyfully and with the superpower of ANYWAY, is courageous.
- Be part of the conversation when mental health legislation and approaches are being discussed.
- Remind people that it isn't dirty laundry. For many of us, it is our reality.
- Download some facts from the National Institutes of Mental Health and share those facts when confronted with stigma.
The most important thing that a person with a mental health condition can do to combat stigma is to practice passionate self-care and know that asking for help is not weak. It is the act of a phoenix rising.
Kipp, P. (2014, February 8). Mental Health Stigma: Airing our Dirty Laundry, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2022, August 11 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/02/mental-health-stigma-airing-our-dirty-laundry
Author: Paulissa Kipp
My son was a healthy child with a sound mind.He started using drugs around 17years old.Marijuana, Spice,Alcohol and eventually meth.Last year before his 19 birthday I started noticing changes in him mentally.He's had run ins with the law and arrested. He was "crazy" as society would say.Literally he was not my son mentally. After one episode of "flipping out" I took him to the ER not knowing what else to do.I was worried about his safety or others in the home.He was admitted and evaluated and diagnosed with anxiety,schizophrenia, and psychosis. Put on Risperdone and Vistril.After a week he wanted to come home and due to his age the doctor couldn't make him stay.So I brought him home.The doctor advised me to get a court order to have him admitted for treatment. Well he came home on a Friday he was not much better the medicine takes a few weeks to start working best. Monday I went to judge in our county the only one that does that sort of court order,He was out of town for the whole week.In the meantime my son is still having serious rages of delusions and such.He gets arrested for disorderly conduct for screaming cussing in the yard.So while in jail he was mased several times&tazed putin the chair that straps you down because of his wild fits of screaming.Nothing physical. I go to his court day and explain to the judge the situation that he was just released from mental ward and needed his medication and to return for treatment. The judge just looked at me with a blank stare and said there's nothing he can do to help.The jailor comes out so I give her his medication and tell her his diagnoses.Point of my story nobody gives a shit about mental illness.There's not much help for it either.Nobody is even aware of this until you're faced with it.Its sad and I pray everyday that my son will overcome this.As of now he's on a waiting list to see a doctor for help.
Beautifully said. I've suffered with mental illness for a long time and at first, like most people, was very discreet about talking about my conditions.
After some time, and growing up, I became more comfortable talking about with those close to me. First family, then friends, and now I can comfortably and proudly talk about it with absolutely anyone.
It needs to be spoken of and I am so glad there are others like you advocating and sharing their story.
"Know facts, No stigma".
Most of the people I know are in denial that I am bipolar and don't want me to talk about sit. Most will say "Oh stop feeling sorry for yourelf. You are not bipolar." That does not help me. I need people who I hang out with to know and I need to feel safe with them that they will not wind me up- or go into denial if they see me getting hyper or acting out. I am bipolar but that is only part of who I am. I am finding that I am hanging out more with other people who have mood disorders because we understand each other. I need to feel safe in this world.
Most people are not aware of the devastating pain mental/emotional ill-health entails. There is no stigma when people speak of physical pain and disease; although psychological pain can be just as debilitating. There also seems a tendency to separate the two, as if the mind/body are separate entities.
I've quit talking about it, for the most part. It embarrasses my family, and no one takes it seriously. My talking about it does more harm than good.
Yes stigma is everywhere. The more of us who come out and discuss mental illness the better. I try in my own way to give people with mental illness a voice by putting them in films about mental health issues. Not only is it good for those watching to see that they are not alone, but also good for those in the films to tell their story and be heard.
It is too bad that we still think of mental illness as something that is within the control of the individual. People who are depressed are "lazy" etc. The same would never be said for someone who suffers with cancer or disease, so why do we allow this type of talk about those with mental health issues? Not sure what the solution is, but articles like this help to raise the issue, which is a great start.
I agree, Anna. It really takes us standing up: writing about it, speaking about it, self-advocating, etc. When we remain silent as others stigmatize us either to our faces or via a system, we allow the stigma to continue. That is the price of silence.