What Does Stigma Mean To Me?

The most violent element in society is ignorance.

Emma Goldman

Just a few interesting stats to get this piece started……..

90% of people with mental health problems experience stigma. 26% of young people with MH issues said stigma made them want to give up on life. 60% of people wait over a year to disclose a mental health problem. 65% of people report stigma affecting their friendships. And a substantial 38% said they experienced stigma in dating/relationships.

(Source: Time to Change ‘State of Stigma’ Survey).

When you hear the word stigma, particularly in a mental health context, what is the first word/term associated that springs to your mind? The ones which you think of immediately and blurt out with no hesitation. Take a minute to give this a thought or write some ideas down.

In my experience of mental health problems, spanning back about 8 years, the phrases that come straight to my mind are ignorance and misunderstanding. While we are making undoubted improvements across society in tackling mental health stigma, reducing discrimination and increasing conversations around the subject, it is clear that many people still do not feel comfortable to talk about a mental health problem for a long time. And sometimes until it’s too late. Part of the reason why is because people have an overwhelming fear of judgement from others, especially that by having a mental health issue others will treat them differently. That they can’t be themselves. That things will change out of their control. That they aren’t ‘normal’. Whatever normal it is!

Man-Up. Stop acting like a girl. Pull yourself together. What have you got to be sad about? Mental Illness is just an excuse. Think of all the people much worse off than you!

Now I don’t know about anybody else, but each of these ‘phrases’ has been said to me at some point in the past. And let me tell you the emotions I felt after hearing these were not nice. *Understatement of the year*

When I hear the old adage ‘stick and stones will break my bones, but words will never hurt me’, I couldn’t think of anything further from the truth. What may seem like a fleeting statement or joke to one person, can be very damaging and cause serious harm to another. It’s not always as simple as not letting it ‘get to you’ or having thicker skin!

Particularly in the world of mental health, where people are often vulnerable and battling through a number of personal issues, the language that people use and the way others treat them can play a major part in their recovery moving forward. While it is perfectly natural to want to find a solution to somebody’s problem, or on the other hand have little idea of what to say to help, what I have found is that the small gestures are usually best. Even if that just entails listening; letting somebody know you’re there. The last thing you want is for somebody to go into their shell after they’ve plucked up the courage to talk about their struggles. Because trust me it takes serious bravery!

The idea of this blog is not to censor, mute or completely tear down the way you choose to act or live your life, just rather to ‘plant a seed’ and for you to consider more how your actions affect others. I myself am not perfect, far from it infact, however my own experiences have taught me just how invaluable strong support systems are. As well as how destructive stigma is.

In a climate where mental health problems are firmly on the rise, divisions are at their worst and unity seems to be at an all-time low, wouldn’t it be incredibly empowering to create a society where nobody felt ashamed or isolated from talking about how they feel?

Not everybody in life will suffer from a mental health problem per say, yet this doesn’t mean we don’t all have lows, ‘down days’ or people close to us who suffer. Periods of time where things simply get too much. Where we need the support of those around us. Due to the stigma I’ve faced around my condition, including the backlash thrown my way, it’s made me even more determined to help others, help myself, and most importantly be involved in a positive change across society. The perfectionist in me may dream of single-handedly changing the world in a matter of months- realistic I know- however deep down I know it’s one step at a time. Rest assured, the more we work together the better the chance of eliminating stigma.

Coming away from this, ask yourself one question: If I was struggling, would I want somebody else to listen and respect me??!

#EndTheStigma #TimeToTalk

Thanks for reading,

Adam

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