Mental Health Stigma: Challenging Your Comfort Zone
I want to tell you about my neighbors. That is, I would tell you about my neighbors if I knew any of them. Now partly, it's a societal change. Many people just aren't neighbors anymore in the classic sense of the word. Oh sure, we'll wave across the fence, but that's pretty much it. I've lived in the same house for 14 years now.
The reason I don't do the neighbor thing is because I don't want them to know me.
I Don't Want Them to Know I'm Mentally Ill
Knowing me means knowing I'm mentally ill. I don't want people to know because I'm afraid if they know, they might use it against me. Or hate me. Or hurt me. It's the paranoia that can come with combat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Mental Health Stigma
I think this is an example of reacting to the stigma our society has regarding mental illness. Even though we've come so far in our understanding of mental illness, even today the stigma remains.
Stigma is borne of ignorance. It's non-understanding of mental illness that causes people to believe stereotypes. The stereotypes cause some people to be afraid of those in their midst who carry around a psychiatric diagnosis. Like other groups who are minorities, some people even think the mentally ill shouldn't have the same rights as everyone else.
For example, the terrible rise of mass shootings has caused many in our society to say certain people with mental illness shouldn't have the right to even own a firearm.
Even the National Rifle Association, which fights against nearly any type of policy that negatively effects gun ownership, is on record supporting the denial of gun rights to the mentally ill by creating a database that would most certainly impinge upon the privacy of mentally ill people.
Please understand, this article is not about the gun debate in America. Rather, it's unfortunately just one instance where we see our society is engaging in stigmatization. The discrimination over gun rights could be just the beginning.
As mentally ill people, we rightly fight against mental health stigma. But sometimes we find we are the ones perpetuating stigma! Back to the neighbors. They aren't the ones hiding in their house because I'm mentally ill. I am!
By doing so, I can unwittingly reinforce the stereotype of the “crazy guy next door.” We don't want to do anything that adds to the stigma we all face. It's somewhat paradoxical: I don't want my neighbors to know I'm mentally ill. My reticence is due to stigma, but my avoiding them because of it can serve to bolster the stigma.
Mental Health Stigma and Moving Out of Our Comfort Zone
Being on the mental health recovery path often challenges us to move out of our “comfort zone.” Our personal recovery is more important than fixing society's wrong attitudes. But we find these two concepts inexorably linked because we, as mentally ill people, are part of the society we wish to change. We have seen how our personal recovery can affect societal beliefs about the mentally ill. Are you perpetuating stigmatic stereotypes by staying in your comfort zone? Maybe I'll talk to my neighbors about it.
Ehrmantrout, M. (2014, April 2). Mental Health Stigma: Challenging Your Comfort Zone, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2019, July 20 from https://www.healthyplace.com/blogs/recoveringfrommentalillness/2014/04/mental-health-stigma-challenging-your-comfort-zone
Author: Mike Ehrmantrout
I couldn't agree with you more, though, that we must be protective of our own private medical information. I limit that to a "need to know" basis.
Thanks for your comment.
It sounds like you've been through alot. Those psychotic states sound scary.
It's interesting how you describe your change in thinking about it. You practiced good self-care by considering that you deserve to have a better life.
The first two weeks back from the hospital, I hid. Much to my dogs' chagrin, I hid. But finally one day I woke up and told myself I really couldn't hide anymore and have any quality of life. If they have questions I will happily answer them but in the meantime, I want them to see what mental illness looks like when it is under control. I want them to know ME.