Mental Health Awareness. In many ways there has been progress, in others, there is much progress still needed. It is no secrete there is a lot of stigma still attached to mental health. There is a strong misconception around seeking therapy: it means you have failed to be “strong enough” to do it on your own or that you “must be crazy.”
When people are in the throes of depression, grief and difficult adjustments, they are more likely to isolate. When they reach out, if at all, dealing with stigma can be a major factor in what may make someone decide to receive life altering ( or in some cases, lifesaving) help or deciding against it because of the heavy shame attached to seeking out mental health services.
The past few years in particular have been tough for mental health . Taking stigma against the LGBTQ community for example: hate crimes have increased at an alarming rate in a national scale. (For more information on mental health in the LGBTQ community particularly the Transgender community, I suggest this article from Psychology Today that explores the direct effects of stigma: Transgender Mental Health). In conjunction, national shootings have also increased at a distressing rate as well. Many sexual assault survivors have begun to tell their stories in a brave and vulnerable way to the public. So what does this all mean for millions of people? A mental health crisis of trauma that is not always met with compassion and understanding.
Trauma cannot and should not be dealt with alone. What do survivors of trauma do? Shame and isolate. Having strong stigmas of shame centered around receiving mental health services will only push those in need further into despair. As this article lists: “…since the experience of shame can be related to judgments of weakness or worth, survivors may feel more stigma about having experienced a traumatic event. This stigma could then prevent you from seeking out the appropriate care.”
What else contributes to mental health stigma? The silence of pretending it does not exist. It is often a reaction when people find something to be uncomfortable to either block it out, to avoid the distress, or to minimize the event/feelings “it can’t be that bad! Look on the bright side!” While these actions may seem innocuous, these actions contribute to ostracizing those in need for mental health assistance through minimizing the seriousness of their condition. Just as how is has become common place to misuse mental health diagnosis to describe preferences or personality types “ I am SO OCD- I cannot stand having a disorganized desk, so I totally get it!” to someone who had a legitimate disorder can unintentionally be extremely invalidating and diminishing to that person who may be kept awake hours every night by intrusive thoughts and deals with the daily battle of compulsions.
How can we help? As mental health professionals, we can use our positions to give mental health a voice, normalize the human experience of depression, loss, having bipolar, having PTSD, giving a voice to those who are not heard and have yet to put words to their experiences.
As any person, you can normalize for your loved ones and let them know it’s a strength to ask for help, observe your own language around mental health. If you are being called to the task of being there for a loved one, instead of trying to find someone’s quick fix or immediately voicing your own opinion, try asking “how do you need me to listen?” and see what happens. When we are able to have someone be a compassionate witness to our most human experiences, we feel recognized and loved.
Finally, it is critical to look inward at our own mental health stigmas- do I hold myself to a different standard than I would a loved one? Do I use stigmatizing language with myself that contributes to my own mental health shame? Have I become emotionally cutoff from accepting myself and my own mental health needs? Can I allow myself to witness and recognize my own human growing process in a compassionate and nurturing way? Once any of us can begin to replace stigma and shame with acceptance and compassion, it is remarkable what can begin to heal.
Alexis has been a part time contributor to the online website Patientworthy which is dedicated to education and awareness of rare and serious diseases. Links to articles written by Alexis: