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Surviving Mental Health Stigma

Laura A. Barton
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?
Laura A. Barton
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.
Laura A. Barton
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?
Laura A. Barton
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.
Laura A. Barton
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.
Laura A. Barton
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.
Laura A. Barton
I tell my mental illness story with tattoos because they both tell stories and help us tell our stories. Those stories can be about anything, and countless people have gotten their skin permanently marked with representations of their journeys with mental illness, myself included. My tattoos give me the opportunity to share my mental illness story and talk about mental health in general. Most conversations are positive, but as with most things mental illness-related, stigma is never too far off.
Laura A. Barton
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.
Laura A. Barton
It's not just those of us with mental illness who combat or want to combat mental health stigma. People in our support systems and others who may not have a connection to mental illness often want to do something as well. Maybe it's a matter of not knowing what to do or where to start, maybe it's something else. Whatever it is, if you fall into those categories, this post with tips to combat stigma is for you.
Laura A. Barton
I'm guilty of discounting simple remedies for mental illness. I would always see something like changing a sleep pattern as simple in comparison to the complex nature of mental illness. I couldn't understand how one could truly make a difference on the other and saw people suggesting that it could as a gross misunderstanding of mental illness and ultimately a perpetuation of stigma. But sometimes the simple solutions are the ones we need to alleviate the symptoms and improve mental wellbeing, which is what I learned recently when I realized how much sleep affects my mental health.