It goes without saying that stigma surrounding mental illness is probably one of the biggest obstacles that mental health advocates face. There are countless people who spend their time and energy working to reduce stigma and misconceptions about people who are mentally ill, yet there are many more people who actually perpetuate stigma and stereotypes. When we think about stigma and mental illness, we often think of it as the unfortunate way that society views mental illness. It’s society and the majority of people who don’t understand what mental illness is, and they are the ones who make it so difficult to come out about mental illness. While I agree to a certain extent, it was my own internalized stigma that was the hardest.
You see, even though I know better, I still feel weak for having depression. I feel like I’m weak because I still have days where I’m so sad and alone for absolutely no reason. I think it’s somehow my fault that there are moments when I see no good in the world and I feel like there’s no one out there who cares about me enough to try and comfort me. I think all these things, yet I know better. I know that depression is not my fault and I only got depression by chance and circumstance, but it’s extremely difficult to let go of that shame and guilt about having depression. I’ve mentioned that I feel a lot of guilt as a result of my illnesses, but feeling ashamed and at fault for having depression is something I still have a hard time getting over.
When I was doing everything in my power to hide my depression a year ago, it wasn’t just because I was scared about the stigma surrounding depression in society. Part of the reason was that I felt like people would abandon me or blame me, not because of the stigma of depression in society, but because I felt like I deserved to be abandoned. I was depressed, so clearly I was doing something wrong, and I was therefore undeserving of love or care and didn’t want to be attention seeking. I was terrified of being seen as someone who wanted attention if I talked about my depression, because I believed that about myself. I perpetuated all these negative and incorrect stereotypes in my head and let my own stigma prevent me from getting support and help.
Fighting stigma is so difficult as it is, but it’s even harder when you’re trying to fight against something that you know you’re guilty of. I am guilty of fostering stigma around mental illness because of my own incorrect beliefs, and I am guilty of feeling like depression is my fault, or that people with depression must be making it up or have something wrong with them. If I can’t even reduce stigma in my own mind about an illness I actually have, how can I expect that it will be simple to educate those that have absolutely no idea what it means to face a daily battle with a mental illness.
So without trying to sound like a hypocrite, I’d like to clear some things up, even if they’re things I sometimes have a hard time believing and remembering.
1. Depression is caused by a chemical imbalance and is out of the sufferer’s control.
2. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness.
3. Talking about depression is not an attention seeking tactic.
4. Attempting suicide is not selfish.
5. Being privileged, or having money, success, and a seemingly good life does not mean you’re immune to depression.
6. Being on antidepressants doesn’t make you someone you’re not, it helps you be more of who you are.
7. Challenging days where depression is a really big struggle is not a sign of failure.
8. Needing extra support and comfort, more than what seems normal, doesn’t make you a burden.
9. Mental illness is no one’s fault.
10. Just because a person is mentally ill, it does not make them somehow less competent, deserving or qualified for jobs like doctors, politicians, lawyers, teachers, etc.
These are ten things that we should all try and remember to reduce stigma not only in society, but within ourselves. I’ll be the first to admit that I’ve told myself the opposite of these things, but addressing stigma of any kind, especially stigma about mental illness, must begin from inside us. We can’t convince other people of these truths unless we truly believe it ourselves.
Keep Surviving by Living.