Stigma is so synonymous within the realm of mental health that one could easily assume that the word was invented by a mental illness advocacy group.
Wherever its origins, it is thrown out there so often for a very good reason. It is, in my opinion, the biggest obstacle that people with mental disorders face. The challenges are many and the flames of stigma are fanned with assumptions by many in the general population. These assumptions include but are not limited to; believing that someone is lazy because they spend a lot of time inside their home or, if they are like me, are off work with a mental health injury.
Those who have not lived inside an ailing mind have difficulties grasping the severity of just how sick one can be. Lacking the experience of “being in the shoes” of someone really ill, healthy-minded people tend to fill in the holes. Perhaps the puzzle that they put together in their head is woven tightly by their own societal narrative that they were raised on or maybe it’s a product of human nature.
For example, one with mental health difficulties can easily be mistaken for a “lazy” individual who has little motivation to work and sponges off others. I was once taught in the fire service that perception is not always reality. And take it from me, what the healthy mind sees is their perception and nowhere near the painful, never-ending reality of one who suffers from a mental disorder.
But, as you can tell by the title, this post isn’t about stigma and its impact. Is mental illness stigma the only challenge people who are mentally unhealthy have? When is the silence of mental illness not stigma?
I know for myself my anxiety disorder in of itself can and does inhibit my journey to mental wellness. Its nature is to try to fool me into believing that no one wants to hear my story, or hear me “complain” to others. “They won’t care to hear it.” The times my anxiety is high, it will set this, “They won’t care to hear it.”statement on repeat.
What it does is systematically shut me down from explaining why I behave the way I do at times. I cower and feel as though I am bothering other people. That being said, there is some definite interplay going on between the fear of stigma and my anxiety.
The unfortunate outcome of allowing my disorder to have the helm is that I can potentially miss out on a really supportive co-worker for example. I may encounter a really supportive manager who can advocate for me when I am having a mentally taxing day.
So, I feel as though it’s not accurate to hold stigma solely responsible for the silence of mental illness. Sometimes it’s just in our nature to not want to bother others and sometimes it can be disorder driven. The good news? It’s within our power to work on our personal challenges, mental or otherwise so that we may one day be able to build a support network that will take the bite out of the stigma of mental illness.
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