This one I am very passionate about. Living with a mental or chronic illness can be difficult, especially if they are invisible. In our world, it is a lot more acceptable to be suffering a physical illness, than it is living with a mental illness. There are some huge misconceptions around what mental illness means and that it should remain a very private topic.
Each individuals circumstances are unique and of course very personal, however I believe having more open conversations about the topic would help so many silent sufferers and encourage them to seek help and accept their worthiness of treatment.
I have met people in the hospital who were known to other patients under a nickname out of fear that their admission could affect their lives later on and they might be disadvantaged. Let me try to debunk some of these common misconceptions and give examples of how I cope with them.
1. Only weak and troubled people are suffering from mental illness
Not true. As simple as that. Mental Illness is often invisible and it can affect any of us. Anxiety and Insomnia are a very common symptom for many people, as a response to the pressures of daily life. Just because you can’t see it, it does not mean it is not there. Just because I am attending the work meeting, contributing to the work, does not mean I am not fighting an inner dialogue of me comparing myself to other people in the room and feeling very uncomfortable and judged. Mental Illness does not disable everyone from all aspects of life. Sadly, many people are hugely impaired but others are functioning just “normal” (whatever that means) and you would not even have an idea what is going on for them.
2. Do not disclose your mental illness. It will affect your career and relationships.
Speaking about your troubles is still a huge no-no in many areas of our life. Mental Health concerns are often kept in the comfort of our home and they grow in isolation. Even speaking to a medical professional can be difficult and the workplace is a whole other battlefield. For many years I kept my struggles concealed, by the time it got really bad I had no choice but to speak to my employer, as I was needing some time off for treatment. The HR department is often a good starting point for this. Maybe your employer has even an Employee Assistance Program or can offer support in a different way. Speaking to friends and family can be difficult too, some responses are not going to be what you were hoping for – but others will support you. Mental Illness does not need to be kept secret. It deserves care and communication just like any other aspect of life does. You are worried you will not get a job because of this later on? I can only encourage you to think again. Do you want to work for an employer who won’t employ you because of this? Today a mental health diagnosis can still affect your suitability for certain insurance covers, there is no way around it, but on the other hand is it worth the price of suffering in silence?
3. People who are suffering mental illness are a danger for others and themselves
They can be, yes. Mental Illness can affect anger levels and lead to impulsive actions. If you spend a day at an emergency department you would be surprised by the number of people presenting with mental health concerns or physical consequences of such. Of course, we can not excuse that other people get hurt in any way, but we also need to accept the fact that the individual needs urgent care and excluding them further from society is most likely going to make the issue worse.
4. All they want is our attention
Think about that one for a minute. There probably is some truth in it but should we not look behind the scenes and wonder WHY they might be needing attention. Self-harm is often a symptom of various mental disorders and should never be stigmatised as attention seeking. Sufferers are going through a serious turmoil in their head and this can lead to behaviours like overdosing or self-harm in other ways. Even people talking about their mental illness can be labelled as attention seeking. In some cases, the person suffering might need your support and compassion. Why not give it to them? Am I looking for your attention? Not for me personally but I want you to notice that mental illness is a widespread and serious problem and not a taboo topic.
Stigma leads to discrimination. We have a lot of work ahead when it comes to discrimination. We discriminate for all sorts of reasons: race, religion, gender, disability and also mental illness. It is not fair to hold something we can not influence against us. You don’t choose your illness, it can happen to anyone. Please think about this the next time you catch yourself thinking about this or labelling someone as “crazy”. The more we spread these misconceptions the more power they will have. Let’s turn it around and have honest and respectful conversations and always remember, no one volunteers for this. Often the stigma they carry in themselves already 1000 harsher than what you could be saying – there is no need to cause further damage.
Have you experienced any stigma during your journey? Or do you have questions you would like to ask?
Please fill out my contact form and I would love to speak with you and answer your question in Stigma – Debunked Vol. 2.