We might not think about it explicitly, but responses to mental health stories can be shaped by stigma. It can be easy to read through posts online or hear someone speak about his or her mental health experiences and question the validity of them. In particular, in a day and age where people can present themselves as anything online, questioning can be good. But, it's important to consider how stigma may be shaping our responses to mental health stories.
Stigma and Society's Perception of Mental Illness
The stigma related to suicide is often thought of as a uniform idea, but it's important to think about the different ways it manifests so we can better understand how to approach it. Does it look different for men and women, for instance? And if so, how? (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
As a form of expression, writing can help us understand the world around us and our experiences, including experiences with mental health. Many mental health advocates talk about journaling specifically as a tool for mental health recovery. But, journaling isn't the only form of writing beneficial to mental health.
One of the ways mental health stigma is spread is through negative labels and name-calling those with a mental health condition. This can happen no matter where a person falls on the mental health spectrum, whether they have a manageable or severe mental illness, but in all cases, calling people with a mental illness names not a helpful solution to mental illness.
One of the most pervasive stigmas of mental illness is the idea that people struggling with their mental health aren't trying hard enough to get better. There's this idea that those with similar, the same, or worse struggles have made it through a tough time so everyone else should be able to. But it's not that simple and people need to stop saying it is. People struggling with their mental health are trying to be well, and the struggle is harder than you think.
Fighting mental health stigma can be scary, especially knowing things will change once you stop being silent and start speaking out. The scariness might be because you live with a mental illness, so you'll be opening up to vulnerability. Or it could be because you'll be clashing head-on with stigma's titan-like reputation. Sometimes you're not even sure exactly how things will be different. So what changes when you begin fighting mental health stigma?
The idea that mental health costs us money as a society is factual, but this is not a useful strategy in reducing stigma. That said, there are a number of strategies used in the effort of reducing mental health stigma that do work. Within the advocacy community itself, I feel many, if not most, are spot on or on the right track. But doing a high-level look at some of the strategies used, it's time to rethink how we're going to slow the impact of mental health stigma.
We miss the signs of mental struggle others are going through because mental health stigma presents warped ideas of what mental illness and the people with it look like. If we're only looking for those that fit a certain mold when trying to pick out someone with mental illness, chances are we're going to miss those who are in a mental struggle.
Fiction is a great way to explore ourselves, the world around us, and our imaginations, but it also has the potential to spread mental illness myths. Not surprisingly, that includes myths about the people who live with mental illness. Unfortunately, the myths are more often than not harmful to people with mental illness in the real world.