Fighting The Stigma of Mental Illness
If I broke my leg and hobbled around on crutches, there’s a good chance that I would get support from others: emotional encouragement, employer accommodation, and at minimum a general understanding that I currently have limitations. But it can heal with the right treatment. We view many ailments in this manner even elective surgery that can place burden on those around you. And yet, when someone reports that they aren’t as productive as they were a week ago due to depression, judgments and labels are thrown on this person that further weighs them down. Why does society continue to see mental illness as a fabrication or a forfeiture of will?
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With the mobilization of social media, we have celebrities speaking out about depression, anxiety, and suicide; yet, society continues to stigmatize those afflicted as weak, under socialized, immature, or seeking attention. How can society begin to change to a more accepting and embracing standpoint with regard to mental illness? I hope to answer some of the questions noted and offer encouragement to anyone trying to retain their illness undercover.
Society continues to view mental illness as either a fabrication or weakened character due to the invisibility of the ailment. My broken leg is very evident- any hobbling is likely to generate lots of “poor you”s and “let me get that for you”s. Mental illness, whether it is depression or schizophrenia, rarely receive that type of kindhearted treatment. Those sympathetic statements won’t heal mental disorders any better than a broken leg; however, it’s the understanding that encourages those struggling to stick with treatment.
There appears to be a significant amount of conservatives who see mental disorders attributed to only the poor, immoral, or underdeveloped character. I do not mean that all conservatives have this viewpoint, but I would assert a correlation. In my opinion, this can be distilled by affirmative action and employment policies that promote diversity. When we are exposed to new ways of thinking and viewing our world, it becomes more difficult to fixate on a narrow sociological perspective. These new cultures likely view mental illness in a different manner than Euro-American’s, which would further deconstruct the outdated schema.
Educating the public would be needed to support those who are struggling. With celebrities who voice support and talk about their own struggles, the layman needs to also work in tandem to generate discussion. Mental illness is a lot more common than we (more likely they as you are reading this article) think. To a degree, nearly everyone will experience a form of mental disorder in their lifetime. If you have experienced grief, the feeling can be similar to depression.
Misplaced anger can be characteristic also of some diagnostic criteria. For that matter, men tend to experience depression differently than women likely due to social stigma. Depressed men are more likely delve into their work, get angry quickly, and isolate. If we can educate the public on the prominence of mental disorder, stigma likely will be reduced.
Bridging the public’s new perspective of the collective disorder with their visceral experiences of grief, anger, or depression would likely tear down the stigma that mental disorders can be willed away. It would be my hope that with this support behind those afflicted; they would feel more comfortable talking openly about their experiences. Employers would be more understanding and accommodating.
Those who experience depression or another disorder should try talking to their supervisor about what accommodations could be helpful. There is no shame in experiencing an illness, which is as real as the flu, a broken bone, or diabetes. In my experience, employers can be more understanding if there are reasonable and specific changes that can be made to support you; a side note, the delivery of the request can help tremendously as well.
As a mental health professional, you would think talking about feeling depressed or anxious would be easy. It’s not; we feel that because we help those with such disorders, we are somehow immune or weak. I encourage anyone who experiences mental health concerns to make it part of your everyday conversations: talk about how meditation or mindfulness has drastically changed your anxiety and depression; talk about your experiences with medication; or talk about how you really like your new therapist. Using our experiences with mental health in common dialogue shows the universality of it and that someone even as strong as you can struggle.
Even in writing this, I can feel myself cringe just thinking about telling others about my depression. We must find allies- someone who we can confide in to garner momentum. There are too many living in pain, dying by suicide, and losing jobs, because of this misunderstanding. Our clients are worth it; our colleagues are worth it; and we are worth it.
This article barely scratches the surface of stigma. Substance use disorders are also extremely prejudicial. The Opioid Epidemic has destroyed thousands of lives and society mostly turns a blind eye because of the belief that it’s a choice to shoot dope. I plan to follow up on this article to discuss the stigma associated with substance use disorders; in the meantime, please send me your questions or comment below. What experiences have you had with stigma? Have you come out to someone close to you about your struggles? How was their reaction?