Although I understand the huge amount of frustration that comes from responding to mental health stigma, I also feel that there are two ways to handle irritation. One way is getting mad, worked up, and starting to sling names, threats, and sarcasm around like there’s no tomorrow. The other is to approach these stigmatizers with a level head and facts, and knowing when to disengage. In the world of the Internet, it’s pretty easy to go about the former, but in this blog, I’m going to explain why I think the latter is a much more effective way to respond to mental health stigma.
Mental Health Stigma Responses
I’m writing this Friday, amidst the storm of controversy as kick boxer Ander Tate posts on Twitter, claiming depression is not real and those who claim to be depressed are just sad, fat, broke, lazy people who need to try harder to get their lives together.1 What this demonstrates to me is a gross misunderstanding of what depression is and how depression affects people.
Despite people with depression explaining their situations to him, despite people posting examples of rich, fit, active, and happy people who have depression, despite all evidence of depression’s existence, he’s still maintaining, and even championing, that depression is not real.
There have been during this, however, people who have resorted to calling him names and he posted that he’s even had people issue him death threats (although I haven’t seen any of that myself). These are not the type of reactions I condone for two reasons.
One, death threats are never okay, and neither is bullying or name calling. Just because you think you’re on the right side of the argument doesn’t mean you’re justified in calling someone a name. Yes, what he’s saying is vile, toxic, and dangerous to people living with depression who might be too afraid to seek help, but that doesn’t justify bullying someone else in response to mental health stigma.
Two, it doesn’t amount to anything other than an argument, reinforcing his belief that people who claim depression exists are irrational and crybabies, or likely both.
Tips to Respond to Mental Health Stigma Online
- Stay calm. As I said above, getting bent out of shape only fuels their resolve that your side of the argument is irrational. Going in with a level head (easier said than done, I know) and approaching it as a civil conversation (even if that civility is only one-sided) will ultimately serve you better in the end.
- Don’t resort to name calling or threats. Even if what the person is saying is the vilest and most toxic thing you’ve ever read or heard in your life, resist the urge to name call as a response to mental health stigma. Doing that puts the person immediately on the defensive and they’re less likely to hear you out afterward. Again, this tip relates to bullying, too. Bullying someone just because they’re being an awful person doesn’t justify the bullying. We can control our emotions even when we’re frustrated and hurt.
- Use facts, even citing sources if you can. Some people are more responsive if they can see where you’re getting your information. Not everyone will respond to this, but some people will appreciate it (Who to Trust for Mental Illness Information).
- Know when to disengage. Some people just don’t or refuse to get it. When it’s time to disengage from an unproductive argument, we have to accept that and move on to something more productive, such as the next tip.
- Reach out to those who might be struggling. If you see people that look like they may have been negatively affected by what someone said, reach out to and let them know that you see their pain, what they’re going through is valid, and that what the stigmatizer has said is ignorance that shouldn’t be listened to. Point them to resources or a mental health hotline if needed.
Tate, A. [Cobratate]. (2017, Sep 07). Depression isn’t real. You feel sad, you move on. You will always be depressed if your life is depressing. Change it. Thread. [Tweet]. Retrieved from https://twitter.com/Cobratate/status/905768225023123460