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Surviving Mental Health Stigma

Despite my best efforts and all that I do, I sometimes catch myself thinking stigmatizing thoughts related to mental health and people with mental illness. I'm sure others do too, especially those who may be new to the mental health sphere. There are steps we can take to manage those stigmatizing thoughts to turn them around and lessen their frequency.
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.
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?
It may seem odd to say that mental health stigma might actually be self-care, but hear me out. When we're struggling and someone pulls away, it can feel very much like mental health stigma. We might think that person doesn't understand or is being unfair. But what if that person is simply practising self-care?
Using ignorance as an excuse doesn't mean what someone said or did wasn't stigmatizing toward mental health or, more specifically, mental illness. Why? Because stigma isn't about intent. Stigma is the negative ideas and misconceptions of mental illness, whether intended or not. Ignorance only determines whether you're mistakenly stigmatizing mental health or doing it on purpose. But stigma is stigma, whether you know any better or not.
I believe there are two kinds of stigma: verbal and non-verbal. We often think of stigma towards mental illness as being only the things people say. In doing so, we forget that non-verbal stigma exists and can be just as negatively impactful as verbalized stigma. But what does non-verbal stigma encompass?
Coping methods are personal choices, so I'm going to come out and say it: people need to stop criticizing others for how they cope with mental illness. As long as the coping methods aren't hurting the people who use them or others, I don't see the issue. Although I'm sure some are trying to joke around, when you ridicule the very tools people use to get through tough moments, it has a negative impact on those with mental illness and contributes to 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.
People underestimate how powerful compassion is for getting through tough times. Sure, facing hard realities is a necessary part of recovery and tough love can be beneficial. But, ultimately, I believe it's the power of compassion that'll help us through the hardest moments and that it's the most beneficial to those with mental illness and their loved ones.
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