Everyone can play a part in ending the stigma surrounding mental health and illness. Here’s how you can fight it.
I am not an expert, I can only write based on my own experience and research.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with a mental illness has experienced first-hand, the stigma surrounding mental illness and mental health and understands the weight it puts on their shoulders.
What Is Stigma?
“Stigma” is defined as “a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.” Synonyms are shame, disgrace and dishonour.
I know that when I first started to notice my own symptoms of depression, I felt the huge weight of stigma. How could I possibly speak to anyone about the way I was feeling? I felt so ashamed, I felt like I had let down my family and friends and I was terrified of speaking about it, especially since I didn’t have a diagnosis at that time. This is self-stigma – I was judging myself, labelling myself and shaming myself.
When I did get a diagnosis, I found that a lot of people didn’t understand a few simple things. People didn’t understand that depression is an illness. I felt blamed for the way I was feeling and I was told to “snap out of it.” The stigma I was feeling held me back from recovery, as I was trying to navigate the challenges that come with the shame.
How Can You Fight The Stigma?
I’ve compiled a list of a few things that anyone and everyone can do to break down the stigma surrounding mental health, whether you are someone that has a mental illness or you’re not.
Educate Yourself And Others
Stigma so often stems from a lack of understanding. Through education, we gain understanding and can respond to situations in a better way. Take the time to learn about mental illnesses, whether it is depression, anxiety, bi-polar or another illness. Be careful what language you use and learn to use the correct terms. Here’s an article explaining the importance of word choice and phrases we can all stop using. When you have a greater understanding, you are able to educate others – your friends, family and colleagues – and the ripple effect begins.
Talk Openly About Mental Health
Speaking openly about mental health breaks down the taboo surrounding the issues. One of the most powerful things you can do is to tell your story. Your story holds so much power. While stigma thrives in darkness, you can squash it by bringing your story into the light. It breaks down the “us & them” mentality. Truth destroys stigma and shame. Be honest about your personal mental health experience or share the story of someone close to you and their journey. If you are getting treatment, don’t deny it or be ashamed of it. Speaking about this may bring someone else’s story into the light and away from stigma and shame. Lastly, check in with your friends, family, colleagues and loved ones to see how their mental health is. They may be afraid to speak out, but your initiation can break down the stigma they feel.
Don’t Harbour Self-Stigma And Shame
While it is so easy to blame yourself for the way you’re feeling, don’t harbour this shame. Self-judgement can be destructive, so turn things around and choose empowerment over shame. Continue to have a meaningful life and contribute to society, whatever that looks like for you. Look after yourself constantly, practice self-care and celebrate every victory, big or small. Be proud of who you are.
Support An Organisation
Finally, support an organisation that is working to eradicate the stigma surrounding mental health issues and mental illness. Choose to donate money, time or express support in another way. Find an organisation that resonates with you and contribute to their efforts of fighting stigma. A great place to start is The Mental Health Foundation NZ. They are diverse and expansive, with campaigns and services covering all aspects of mental health and wellbeing.
You can truly make a difference in ending the stigma surrounding mental health and illness. I hope that this empowers you a little and encourages you to join the fight against stigma.
Speaking out about mental health on social media? Use the hashtag #endthestigma and join the movement.
Need to talk? Free call or text 1737 any time for support from a trained counsellor
Lifeline – 0800 543 354 (0800 LIFELINE) or free text 4357 (HELP)
Suicide Crisis Helpline – 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO)
Healthline – 0800 611 116
Samaritans – 0800 726 666