Sometimes there is no way to avoid feeling like a burden because of your mental illness. Whether it is for emotional, physical, or financial reasons, the reality of mental health problems can be difficult to bear for both those who suffer from mental illness and those who consider themselves caretakers of those who struggle. For people who have a mental illness, feeling like a burden comes with a tremendous amount of self-stigma that is reinforced by the silent stigma of those who must bear the weight of the “burden” that mental illness causes.
The Stigma of Mental Illness and Feeling Like a Burden
Even if this responsibility is taken on willingly by caretakers, there is often an unspoken stigma about the mental health of the individual in question. Is he/she really sick enough to require such care and attention? Is he/she really too sick to work or hold down a full-time job? Will he/she ever be a truly functioning and an adequate member of society?
For those who struggle with their mental health, the questions may seem callous, but they are quite valid for those who may be bearing the weight of the unexpected financial and psychological hardships that mental illness often involves. However unintentional it may be, the unspoken stigma of the mentally ill person being a burden can lead to deep guilt and shame on both sides.
The Stigma of Being a Burden Has Mental Health Consequences
As a person who has often been in the uncomfortable position of requiring help from others when I felt I should be completely self-sufficient, I can understand the discomfort of feeling like a burden in the face of mental health issues. I have often had to ask myself the same uncomfortable questions about whether or not I “deserve” the help I seek.
While I have done my best to live up to the conventional human standards of holding down a job and making even a meager living, I have often fallen short of that, and I still feel the effects of my inability to live up to that standard. Feeling guilty and ashamed is often a daily part of my life because of it.
Sometimes the shame of not being where I feel I am expected to be at this point in my life spirals me deeper into depression and hopelessness. Because I have not experienced the long-term remission of my mental illness in a way that would allow me to function “normally” for extended periods of time, I question my worth—whether as a friend, daughter, and wife or simply as a human being and member of society.
Reducing the Mental Health Stigma of Being a Burden
Continuing to cultivate compassion and understanding around mental illness and its effects on both caretakers and those who are struggling is essential to reducing stigma. For those outside of these circumstances, the consequences of mental health stigma are not always obvious, but the shame that stigma creates is real.
It is also important to validate the needs of those with mental illness. It is an illness, after all, but because it is largely invisible, it can be easy to forget this. Just because you can’t see it doesn’t make it less real. Maybe the person you know is sick enough to require the care they seek. Maybe right now they are too sick to work or hold down a full-time job. And, depending on their mental health situation, they may or may not be able to be a functioning member of society on the level you would like them to be.
I still struggle with self-worth and feeling like a burden because of my mental illness, but working to reduce mental health stigma has given me a way to voice these feelings for myself and others. With continued transparency, the burden may not entirely dissolve, but maybe it will start to feel a little lighter.