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Surviving Mental Health Stigma

Seasonal depression is a hot topic during this time of year, and seasonal depression and stigma rear their ugly head simultaneously. It wasn't until recently that I could put a name to all the unpleasant and lonely emotions that I felt as the days became shorter and the weather colder--I guess I can thank mainstream media for that. The fact of the matter is that many individuals experience varying degrees of seasonal depression. So why do people still attempt to debunk the phenomenon and call seasonal affective disorder fake? Stigma around seasonal depression, that's why.
Ignorance is bliss. Or is it? It can be challenging to decipher the true root of ignorance. Is it the literal definition of the word, lack of knowledge or awareness? Does malicious intent fuel ignorance? Does a lack of empathy fuel ignorance? Although daunting, the truth is, understanding the root of the ignorance in question is the first step toward improvement. Regarding mental health stigma, ignorance is one of the biggest obstacles to progress. Let's unpack a few common motives behind ignorance to help gauge a path forward concerning mental health stigma.
I've felt quite overwhelmed by the events happening worldwide and within my community. Between social media, the news, and life, the noise never lets up. Luckily, there are practices we can observe and measures we can take to quiet the noise. It all starts with small actions leading to a more overarching goal. This methodology applies to many aspects of our life, and fighting mental health stigma is no different.
The next global pandemic is here, and it's not what we expected. Mental health is at a tipping point in the United States and the world. Even before the COVID-19 pandemic, anxiety, depression, and other mental health disorders began steadily trending upward. With one global pandemic slowly moving into the scope of our rearview mirror, another timely and urgent pandemic has prevailed: mental health.
Self-harm is not avant-garde. Depression is not mysterious. I know these two statements to be facts, so why do some forms of media want us to believe otherwise? On the one hand, maybe I should be grateful. Maybe I should be grateful that topics such as suicide are even portrayed on television or in movies. Why, then, is the predominant emotion not gratitude but sheer anger? (Note: This post contains a trigger warning.)
It's one thing to say that the opinions of others don't matter, but actually believing these words to be true is another beast entirely. Growing up, people had a bad habit of telling me who I was, what I offered, and even who I was going to be. Sometimes I would brush these comments off, but I would mostly let them sit and fester until the line between what I believed and what others believed of me blurred. I was susceptible to those thoughts and expectations of others because I lost touch with my sense of self.
The truth is out. I'm a mental health blogger who is not entirely comfortable talking about my mental health journey. Yes, I divulge details of one of the most painful and personal experiences in my life on the Internet that anyone can see with the click of a mouse or a tap of a finger, but every time I hit "publish," I get a little rush of fear. I fear that my colleagues will read my articles and think I'm a less competent worker. I fear that the guy I'm interested in will read about my experiences before I feel it's time to sit down and tell him directly. The funny thing about my fear is that it's not manufactured solely by myself; it's a byproduct of societal influence.
"Get over it." "Snap out of it." If I had a dime for every time I heard those phrases about depression, let's just say I could quit my day job. It irritates, no infuriates, me that the sheer magnitude and hardship that is depression is diminished. It makes a challenging experience all the more compounding. It is hard to say if it's ignorance that drives this misconception or stigma or if the two are even mutually exclusive; one thing for sure is that none of it is helpful to an individual struggling.
Seven years: that’s how long I’ve been writing for HealthyPlace and the "Surviving Mental Health Stigma Blog." This time seven years ago, I was embarking on a new journey in writing and mental health. And now, again, I’m embarking on a new journey and saying goodbye to this blog.
Take a moment to think of your favorite media villain. I bet the character that just came to mind is portrayed as having a mental illness with a sprinkle, or more like a heap of dramatization for theatrical effect. Batman's Two-Face struggles deeply from poorly represented dissociative identity disorder (DID), as does Split's protagonist with the 23rd identity of Kevin being The Beast, an entirely fictitious representation that--intentionally or not--paints individuals suffering from DID as violent and inhuman. The cinematic tactic aimed at creating drama and bolstering a storyline comes with an unintended and paramount side effect: stigma.