Lazy, crazy, or scary? There’s no limit to the stigma surrounding mental health.
From believing that people with mental health issues are dangerous, to thinking it to be a simple choice of “just don’t worry and relax”. Many people fail to understand the long list of difficulties that arise from mental health struggles. A lot of fear, shame, and ignorance are involved when talking about mental health.
Shame resulting from mental health stigma can make people feel even more alone with what they are dealing with. As if that wasn’t enough, being aware of how they are labeled can prevent people from seeking help and finding relief sooner.
Since so many people are afraid to talk about their mental health, it’s quite common to get information about mental and emotional disorders from TV shows and movies. Unfortunately, these portrayals aren’t always the most nuanced or sensitive. It’s not uncommon to find a character whose serial killing spree is “explained” by their Dissociative Identity Disorder as a twist, or a character with PTSD or Personality Disorder being shown as abusive with no redeeming qualities. While the past few years have given us some quality shows that discuss mental health in a more positive way, things still aren’t perfect. Representation matters. If all we see as examples for depression (for one) are white teenage girls who cut themselves, it influences the way we view the disorder. Some people may even feel that if they don’t follow the same mold, it’s unlikely that they are experiencing depression at all.
Mental health stigma dictates how we talk about it. Since the conversation is lacking, people who have little knowledge about mental health often have no idea how to support their friends and family. For someone dealing with addiction or anxiety, it’s difficult to reach out for support and feel like talking to a wall. When you share your struggle, the last thing want to hear is “it sounds like you’re just lazy” or “cheer up, things aren’t so bad.”
It’s true that we can’t change the whole world. However, there are things you can do to thrive in your personal life when dealing with mental health issues.
- Don’t hide your struggles. The more we keep something hidden, the more we tend to feel shame surrounding it. When something is hard to talk about, that’s often a sign that it needs talking about! You’d be surprised at the relief you might experience by sharing your truth. Not only that, but being open and vulnerable may even inspire others around you to open up about their own struggles, too. Since the majority of the prejudice about mental health issues comes from ignorance, sharing your experience and showing the many faces of mental illness can help decrease stigma. However, you shouldn’t feel obliged to educate anyone who you feel is unwilling to listen.
- Find a good support network. As important as sharing what is going on for us, is knowing who we can share with and trust. Finding a good network isn’t easy, but it’s necessary. Try meeting new people through events around you. In the meantime, online forums can be a good way to get support, as well as eventually finding people who live in the same area.
- Realize that everyone goes through their own struggles. For some it might be mental health, for others, it might be learning disabilities, weight issues or a variety of other things. While it’s true that some seem to have an “easier” life, we can never really know what goes on beneath the surface.
- Take care of your body and mind. Exercise, meditation, and balanced nutrition can be essential, and make the difference between a good day and a bad one.
- Practice a self-care routine. In the video, Rwenshaun mentions how coloring calms him down and keeps him focused. For you, it might be going for a walk while listening to a podcast or dancing in your room.
- Be honest with yourself about your emotions. You might care about certain people in your life but be forced to admit that they trigger you or that your relationship with them is unhealthy. You might find that things that work for some people in their mental health journey don’t work for you. There are only so many yoga classes you can go to without feeling a benefit. Be willing to try different things, and don’t judge yourself for what you feel.
- Compare yourself to past you instead of other people. It’s easy to feel like you’re losing when you’re comparing yourself to others. We only see what others choose to show. If we’re basing our judgment on social media, it’s important to remember that people usually showcase only their best. Everyone is on a different path, and we don’t all need to get to the same place at the same time. If you compare yourself to where you were a year ago, or five years ago, do you feel that you are in a better place? Do you feel more content in your life? Are you closer to pursuing your goals? Have you developed better communication skills? Made new friends?
- Accept who you are. You might have a diagnosis, but you are so much more than that. If it helps, you can write a list of other qualities and interests you have. Keep it in an accessible place as a constant reminder that you are a worthwhile person deserving of love.
I talked to Rwenshaun Miller about recovery and living with bipolar disorder in the following video. He talks about his experiences dealing with stigma, as well as changes he made in his life to thrive. Once again, special thanks to him for sharing his story and doing his part to eliminate the stigma.