Playing the what-if game isn’t always the greatest of ideas, especially for those of us with mental illnesses that cause us to get stuck in the what-if mindset. But humor me for a second (or rather this post) because while playing the what-if game can be detrimental, I think there is some good to it sometimes and in this case, I think it’s one of those times. What if mental illness stigma never goes away? What then?
Why Wouldn’t Mental Illness Stigma Go Away?
Many advocating for awareness for mental illness tote around the flag of breaking down mental illness stigma. I count myself in that group and believe that through sharing personal stories and factual information about mental illness, we do manage to reduce mental illness stigma. What we can’t ignore is the fact that mental illness stigma still exists and some people just can’t be reached. For whatever reason, they can’t wrap their minds around the idea of brains getting or being sick and affecting people negatively (What Is Mental Illness? ).
But Don’t Stop Advocating
Don’t get me wrong, even reaching one person is a job well done in my book, and mental health advocates certainly reach more than one person. But when we take into consideration how many people are in the world and how pervasive mental illness stigma still is, I think it’s fair to ask that what-if question. In doing so, we can prepare ourselves for the possibillity and become stronger people because of it.
I think asking what-if is particularly beneficial for non-advocates who don’t know what to do about the stigma they face. While it’s nice to have the idea that stigma will one day go away, why wait around for that to happen? Non-advocates need to know now what to do about stigma and self-stigma. We can make things better by reaching out right now.
After all, the only people we ultimately have control over are ourselves.
Mental Illness Stigma Doesn’t Have to Affect You All of the Time
Let me say one thing before I continue: being stigmatized for any reason sucks, especially when it’s something that we either can’t change or something that can’t easily be changed. Lessening the blow of that stigma is not an easy task and sometimes it’s going to break us down — and it’s okay to be upset.
We Can Change Our Reaction to Mental Illness Stigma
What we need to do, and what we should actually start doing right now, is change how we react to mental illness stigma overall, which also works to take power away from those stigmatizing us. I don’t mean that in a sense that it will make them stop, because it might not, but it will certainly help us to cope better.
How we do that is probably going to be different for each of us. For me, my keys to reducing mental health stigma’s effect over me are my support system and knowledge. When I say knowledge, I mean I actively seek out research about my mental illnesses because for me that helps me understand them and brings me peace and I can see them for what they truly are: illnesses. Having my support system is key too because those people give me reassurance that I’m not fighting this on my own (even if they don’t have mental illnesses) and that they value and appreciate me just as I am, mental illnesses and all.
These two things give me strength and confidence to take stigma head-on.
Should we stop sharing about mental illnesses? Should we stop helping those who stigmatize people understand why their actions hurt? Absolutely not. We should do what we can right now to help us get through stigma, just in case mental illness stigma never goes away.