If you’ve lived with mental health issues long enough then you’re fully aware of how often you’re personally blamed for them.
Some of these people mean it lovingly and talk out of a place of ignorance, while others may not have such good intentions.
Whatever the case may be, mental health still has a negative stigma attached to it even after years of increased awareness.
This stigma is much more than simply feeling ‘bad’ about your mental health. It can prevent people from ever seeking help, resulting in a more severe mental illness or even death.
So, why does this stigma exist in the first place? What are a few ways you can overcome this negative mentality and find yourself in a place of confidence and security in who you are - flaws and all.
Let’s talk about it!
Why Does The Stigma of Mental Illness Exist?
The stereotype attached with mental illness comes from a place of misunderstanding (ignorance) and / or a deep rooted negative belief about it (prejudice). Many people that feel negatively about mental illness fail to realize their beliefs stem back all the way to the earliest civilizations.
Dating back to 5 B.C, Greek, Roman, and Egyptian writings depicted citizens with mental disturbances as demonically possessed or in need of religious punishment.
These negative attitudes continued on for centuries leading us into the 18th century. During this time, mental health was greatly misunderstood and those who were depressed, anxious, or experienced any other form of mental illness were subject to cruel and inhumane treatment and isolation.
‘Insane asylums’ began popping up all over the United States, confining those with a mental illness to an environment far away from the rest of society. In these asylums great crimes against humanity occured.
Long periods of isolation, restrainment, bloodletting, purging, lobotomies, and imprisonment were all common ‘treatments’ for patients suffering from mental illness. Of course, none of these helped whatsoever and only furthered the deep rooted stigma that has followed to this day.
How To Overcome The Negative Stigma Of Mental Illness:
All of us in the mental health community - whether you suffer personally, or have a loved one who does - need to work everyday to decrease the negative viewpoints of mental health.
While these perceptions run deep in the veins of history, we can all make baby steps to creating a world free from stigma.
Here are a few ways to help overcome the negative stigma of mental illness in your own life:
Talk Openly About Mental Health:
This is particularly important when interacting with older generations. While millennials and gen Z’s have been increasingly transparent about mental health this is truly the first time in history a generation has done so.
Talk openly about your struggles and your triumphs, so those who may hold a negative view can see that even individuals with depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, PTSD, and more can still lead happy healthy lives.
Education Is Key:
Educate yourself and others on the topic of mental health. The more we talk about it and teach others the ins and outs, the more commonplace it becomes.
This is directly how we combat the ‘secrecy’ behind mental health. For decades mental illness has been a topic that is taboo - never to be mentioned at the dinner table.
However, mental illness is incredibly common. It’s by no means a sign of weakness in character. Use facts and statistics if you wish to back up your conversations.
Don’t Take It Personally:
Of course, this is easier said than done. But the best thing you can do for yourself is to let those comments roll off your back. In the end, this is your life - not theirs.
If your family members look down on you for seeking medication or treatment for depression, remember they simply don’t understand. Ask yourself what inner wounds the other person may have that cause them to think or feel this way. Many times people that talk bad about others with a mental illness in fact have a mental illness themselves!
Take this as a them problem, rather than a you problem. When you let the voice of others drown out in the background you pave the way for a healthier journey of recovery.
Treat Your Mental Health Like Physical Health:
If you were to have the stomach flu you wouldn’t want to be out and about at the bar with friends, or struggling to go into work. Treating your mental health as an extension of your physical health can help you internally fight the stigma against mental health.
When you begin to recognize yourself slipping into a depression, or start to feel a panic attack coming on don’t stuff it away out of embarrassment.
Take the time to acknowledge what you’re experiencing and remind yourself that your mental health is nothing to feel shame about.
Even though many of us with mental health are free from feeling the negative stigmas around our condition, we still may have doubts or insecurities stemming from the voices of others. Maybe you grew up in a household where mental health was a topic off limits.
You likely still carry with you some of that discomfort and may even find yourself asking, “am I faking it? Is this just me being weak or lazy?”. Our internal voice plays a much bigger role than we realize. Once we learn how to quiet those voices we can then decrease the stigma in our own personal journey.
We Can All Help Reduce The Stigma:
Whether you struggle with your own personal stigma of mental health, or you’re experiencing it from others, remember that everytime you choose to open up about your struggles, educate those close to you, nurture your mental illness and turn away from negative comments you’re decreasing the stigma one step at a time.
Be mindful about the words you use to describe others. Try and avoid words like “crazy” or “psychotic” when talking about someone who has recently lashed out. These words only perpetuate the idea that those with a psychological disorder are dangerous or violent. While it may not come across that way our subconscious mind picks up on even the smallest things.
People (including yourself) with mental illness are entitled to respect and kindness the same as anyone else. As you continue on your journey of healing and overcoming your mental illness, challenge these negative stigmas when they arise. The more we talk about it - the more we end the stigma once and for all.