There's been a question on my mind as COVID-19 continues to spread and as people continue to respond to it: am I stigmatizing reactions to coronavirus? There has been a wide range of reactions to how the virus is changing how we operate as a society, fear being a huge one. I find myself a bit of an outlier in this, which is where this question I've been thinking about comes from. Allow me to explain.
Surviving Mental Health Stigma
A misconception bred by mental health stigma is your mental illness is your entire identity. It can even go as far as suggesting there is no separating you from it. While mental illness and mental health struggles are a part of who we are, they don't completely make up our identity.
Letting others know you have a mental illness can feel like a confession because of stigma. Telling someone about the illness for the first time can be a large, daunting task because of this feeling that you're revealing a deep, dark secret. This is because stigma tells us that reactions to mental health struggles will always be negative.
Many know the difficulty of dealing with mental health stigma, but there are also situations where a person might end up facing layers of stigma. This changes what it's like to deal with mental health stigma overall.
The physical symptoms of mental illness and mental health struggles are not often spoken about but are important pieces in understanding mental health overall. I'm sure to some, pairing physical symptoms with something mental seems like a misnomer. Maybe that's part of why physical symptoms are used in the battle against stigma. But can the existence of physical symptoms stop mental health stigma?
While practicing gratitude can be a great way to encourage positivity during a mental health struggle, it can also play a role in mental health stigma. It may not seem like it, but there are ways gratitude can negatively impact someone who is struggling with a mental health condition.
Overcoming mental health stigma is not something I would have thought possible. It's such a pervasive and negative force that it can seem insurmountable. Yet, upon reflection, I know it's not affecting me like it once did.
Is it mental health stigma? This is a great question to ask ourselves as not everything we encounter is. When we have mental health issues, we can be hypersensitive to any sort of situation that seems to involve our mental health or mental health in general. With this can come the sense that many things are a manifestation of stigma. It's important to recognize, however, that no everything is mental health stigma, even if what we're facing is negative.
When we're combatting mental health stigma, it's important to be as inclusive as possible. One of the ways we fight stigma is to talk about or try to convey the idea that our experiences don't have to fit in a box and that there isn't any shame in not having everything together, in being "messy." But does this saturation of messages mean it's not okay to be, for lack of a better word, "neat?"