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Surviving Mental Health Stigma

Laura A. Barton
I see a certain question come up time and again in discussions about health—which is more important: physical or mental health? Even if no one directly asks that question, the undertone of a large number of these conversations pits these two aspects of health against one another. We're even seeing it now with the global pandemic that continues to shake the world.
Laura A. Barton
One important thing for folks to realize is that mental health struggles don't take a holiday. Given the year that 2020 has been and the on-going restrictions on gatherings across the globe, I imagine that it may be easier to see than ever before, with the holidays looking different than usual. All the same, I wanted to take time to comment on mental health struggles during the holiday season and how mental health stigma factors into that.
Laura A. Barton
Coping with unintentional mental health stigma is an important skill to have. The reason for that is even people with the best intentions can stigmatize mental health with their words or actions. Although they might now mean any harm, there's still the potential for harm, and having the tools to cope with those situations is useful.
Laura A. Barton
The links between mental health stigma and trigger warnings are multifaceted, which means navigating trigger warnings can be complicated. Mental health triggers are often easily dismissed as weakness or laughable, but they're very real, and warnings can help people prepare for a situation. However, those who don't want trigger warnings can also feel stigmatized by them.
Laura A. Barton
Talking isn't enough to break mental health stigma, which I think may be a hard pill to swallow. I know how impactful conversation and general mental health awareness efforts can be on an interpersonal level, and I don't mean to say those things aren't important. However, we need to understand that they're not enough to break mental health stigma entirely, and here's why.
Laura A. Barton
Recovery may not look as expected, and I believe reshaping mental health recovery can be a tool to combat mental health stigma. By challenging the perception we have of recovery, it may help people understand that mental health struggles don't necessarily go away. Reshaping mental health recovery can contribute to stopping the idea that we should associate mental health struggles with willpower, contagion, and other harmful notions brought on by stigma. There are two keys ways I see to do this.
Laura A. Barton
I don't talk about my anxiety a lot. Part of that, I think, is because of how mental health stigma has shaped anxiety disorder as worries or thoughts that people can't seem to get past. It's difficult to explain to those people the depth of anxiety's impact, and sometimes even for those who do have a better concept and understanding of it, it can be tough to relay exactly how it feels.
Laura A. Barton
Surviving mental health stigma during awareness efforts might seem like the last thing anyone would need to do. After all, awareness efforts are designed to foster honest conversation and combat the stigma around mental health and mental illnesses. Despite the good of these efforts, however, there are still ways that people might be negatively impacted by them.
Laura A. Barton
Mental health crises can happen anywhere at any moment, such as in a public place. Time and time again, I've seen those public moments captured in photos and videos online, turning a moment of pain into a show that people seem to feel entitled to gawk at and criticize. This needs to stop because mental health crises are not spectacles. Making them into such is stigmatizing and potentially harmful to the individual struggling.
Laura A. Barton
What is it really like to live with suicidal ideation? Suicide is still heavily stigmatized, with accusations of selfishness being one of the most prominent pieces of stigma used against it. Would knowing about suicidal ideation help reduce the stigma that's so quickly thrown at those who struggle with thoughts of dying by suicide? I believe understanding its impact can shed light beyond the misinformation that fuels suicide's stigma. (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)