Recognizing the only ones we can truly charge are ourselves, it seems it shouldn't be so difficult to stop self-stigma. On the contrary, it can be very challenging. If you are having trouble putting an end to mental health self-stigma, don't worry. It's not just you.
Will your new year resolutions cause self-stigma? With the new year comes new resolutions. Many times those resolutions center around health and wellbeing, so it's no surprise people are making resolutions to overcome mental health struggles. But can new years resolutions create mental health self-stigma?
Self-stigmatizing negative thoughts can work their way into your mind when you live with a mental illness. Learning how to deal with negative thoughts is one of the biggest learning curves there is. Personally, it's something that I still struggle with, too. When things become still and I'm left with myself, it gets loud in my head. The self-stigmatizing negative thoughts begin to incessantly drum away and it becomes challenging to deal with, but I do have helpful strategies.
If I were to ask you to picture someone who is experiencing suicidal thoughts, what would you imagine? My guess is someone wearing dark clothes with a haggard expression and overall looking like he or she are down on his or her luck. The image of someone who seems to have it all together might not come to mind at all. But, like mental illness, suicidal thoughts aren't reserved only for those whose circumstances "warrant" it. Suicidal ideation can and does affect anyone at any time, even when life is otherwise good.
I combat self-stigma with books about mental health because as much as I love the online world and the connections it's helped me make, there's something about a physical book that can't be beat. I often find myself looking for books when I want to read personal accounts of journeys with mental illness and health in general. It's not just about reading the stories though — I find I seek them out most when the noise in my head is too loud. Reading these kinds of stories actually helps me combat self-stigma drumming away in the back of my mind.
The idea of mental strength often plays into mental health stigma. Out of the many ways we endeavor to encourage people through tough periods of mental illness, encouragement to use mental strength is pointless. Many of these ways are phrases or words meant with the best intentions, but they can also be potentially harmful — or at least I’ve seen the harmful effects they’ve had. Of the number of platitudes people say, one I get stuck on is “stay strong.”
How we ask about a person's mental illness matters because language can stigmatize mental illness. At the core of stigmatizing mental health conversations, is the idea that mental illnesses are not real, legitimate illnesses. It’s one of the basics when talking about mental illness, and to some degree, it seems like we should be well past this statement by now. But we’re not. It’s not just naysayers of mental illness that make the mistake, either; in some cases, even those who have mental illness or know someone who does still don't know what to say to someone with a mental illness. They seem to want to think of mental illness as something other than a sickness and end up contributing to stigma in the questions they ask about a person's mental illness.
Some people with mental illness isolate themselves to feel protected from mental health stigma. Because stigma labels someone as an outlier, many people withdraw when feeling stigmatized for their mental health. Apart from the stigma of mental illness and self-stigma making us feel poorly about ourselves in general, seeing stigmatizing ideas all over the media, hearing them spoken to us, or even thinking them to ourselves can amplify the sense of isolation that mental illness already brings. We need ways to counter the isolation that mental health stigma brings as loneliness can lead to hopelessness and negatively impact recovery.
As exciting as the holiday season can be, it can also bring up self-stigma about mental health problems. Spending more time with friends and family can lead to a lot of comparisons that may cause shame about one’s position in life. As someone who deals with mental health problems, I sometimes feel like a failure because I think I should be doing so much more, but mental illness has gotten in the way. Dealing with mental health self-stigma is always hard, and the holidays tend to be particularly difficult.
I avoided Student Disability Services in college because of mental health stigma. Although I was diagnosed with various mental health conditions as a teen, it wasn’t until college that I truly realized the debilitating effect mental illness could have on my life. I was highly resistant to the idea when an on-campus counselor first advised me to make an appointment with my university’s Student Disability Services department. Sure, I needed help, but I didn’t need that kind of help.