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Surviving Mental Health Stigma

Laura A. Barton
When we talk about mental health often, we learn that we can deal with mental health stigma if it happens but it's not easy to talk about mental illness. Telling people about your mental illness makes it feel like you're inviting the world to blow up -- at least that's how it felt for me. I had such a long list of bad experiences and reactions to my mental illnesses, especially skin picking disorder, that it just seemed ludicrous to willingly tell somebody about them. Yet, repeatedly facing the potential of stigma both online and offline has taught me that the world won't end when I tell people I have mental illnesses and talk about mental health. And knowing that has made it easier to take on stigma every time.
Laura A. Barton
I combat self-stigma with books about mental health because as much as I love the online world and the connections it's helped me make, there's something about a physical book that can't be beat. I often find myself looking for books when I want to read personal accounts of journeys with mental illness and health in general. It's not just about reading the stories though — I find I seek them out most when the noise in my head is too loud. Reading these kinds of stories actually helps me combat self-stigma drumming away in the back of my mind.
Laura A. Barton
Many think of the bond between human and animal as a simple pet-owner or predator-prey relationship. For others, the connection is greater as service and support animals offer physical and mental assistance to humans. Yet, while many gaze upon service animals with respect, support animals are stigmatized as fake despite the help they offer people.
Laura A. Barton
Sometimes when we think about how to stand up to stigma about mental health, I think we get too caught up in the idea of an outward battle against mental health stigma. We might forget that we can arm and armor ourselves against it. As I've written before, mental health stigma may never go away, so it's about equipping and molding ourselves to better be able to withstand it. It doesn't just happen with a snap of our fingers though; it's a process to take on and continuously work at. If you're needing encouragement or guidance to stand up to stigma, here are some things you can try.
Laura A. Barton
These days, using the word trigger will probably elicit a few reactions: eye rolls, groans, and insults. Yes, there are people that take the word trigger seriously when used in conversations about mental illness, but, for the most part, it has become a derogatory thing that people use sarcastically to insinuate that people are too politically correct or soft. The negative side effect of that is that people who talk about mental illness triggers are also regarded with the same disregard when triggers can actually have serious impacts on people with mental health disorders.
Laura A. Barton
Working with social anxiety isn't a cure for social anxiety disorder, but working with the disorder has taught me a few things. Other people may look at social anxiety disorder and think that people just need to get over their irrational fears or worries and become productive members of society, especially when it comes to working. I was one of those people who wondered how I would ever be able to work considering the paralyzing anxiety I felt from having to deal with the public, using the phone, and other work-related things. I felt (and sometimes still do feel) the constant pressure of that stigma saying suck it up and go to work. So I did, and here's what I learned from working with social anxiety.
Laura A. Barton
Celebrities' mental health stories help us see that anyone can have mental illness: this statement is not something that I can stress enough. It doesn’t matter how much money you have, how much happiness there is in your life, or if you have a “reason” for being sick — sometimes you’re just sick, and that’s the long and the short of it. Celebrities' mental health stories go a long way toward showing that we're all susceptible to mental illness.
Laura A. Barton
The effect of exercise on mental health and mental illness isn't what most people think. One of the go-to remedies for those who don’t understand mental illness is to suggest those who have a mental illness exercise as if it’s a cure. It’s often used in the argument that pharmaceuticals are bad by saying regular exercise is the only real cure. While being active can have a positive effect on some people, it’s still not a cure for mental illnesses. Because of that, the suggestion of exercise to fix them is very much a notion of stigma because of its oversimplification and misunderstanding of mental illness.
Laura A. Barton
The idea of mental strength often plays into mental health stigma. Out of the many ways we endeavor to encourage people through tough periods of mental illness, encouragement to use mental strength is pointless. Many of these ways are phrases or words meant with the best intentions, but they can also be potentially harmful — or at least I’ve seen the harmful effects they’ve had. Of the number of platitudes people say, one I get stuck on is “stay strong.”