Wednesday, October 26, 2016

Mental Health Stigma

What does mental health stigma mean?  Basically it refers to negative feelings or connotations about mental health issues.  We have been conditioned to have all kinds of negative thoughts about mental health issues and most of them come from our own ignorance and lack of understanding.  The stigma part comes from our belief that we have the right to judge others, as opposed to understanding them.

It is easier to call someone crazy or erratic than try to understand what truly lies behind their lack of ability to live within the social 'norms' of society.  There have been many attempts by groups and governments to remove the stigma by changing the words that we use.  For many years people with mental health disorders were 'crazy' or different and referred to as such, usually with very derogatory words.  As our understanding increased, we started using terms like mental illness, but the word illness still had a negative stigma attached to it as well.

Presently, the preferred term used in mental health disorders, but unfortunately the stigmas are still there.  I am going to provide you with my take on what needs to be done, from my own experiences with mental health issues.  In the professional and medical world we are taught to keep these things hidden and everything is filled with confidentiality clauses which lead us to believe that we should keep these things quiet and to ourselves.  I am here to tell you that I believe we should be doing the exact opposite of that.

Because of our fears of being judged by others, we follow these suggestions and hide our mental woes from the world, and nothing could be more detrimental to our mental health.  How are others going to learn to better understand us as a person if they don't know that we have underlying issues.  I share my issues with others all the time!  Certainly not for sympathy because I don't want anybody feeling sorry for me.  My issues are mine and have been given to me so that I may learn to be a better human being, and I would not trade that.

I have grown more as human through my own inner conflicts than through any other form of learning I have experienced.  Does it suck sometimes?  Of course it does, but I regret nothing and no longer live in my past, only in the present.  I will warn you though, if you are not confident enough or lack self esteem presently, you may not be prepared for the judgment of others and this can truly drag your self esteem even lower.  I have learned that what others think of me is irrelevant to my life.  All that matters in the end is what I think of me!

This is a tough article to keep brief but I am doing my best to get the points across as quickly as I can.  If we give others the chance to understand us as opposed to judging us, we have a chance to make better connections with people.  I am not afraid to tell someone in a job interview that I have a well controlled anxiety disorder because although I can control the emotions, I cannot control the physical behaviours that are often manifested from it.  I tend to perspire under stress and if the other person does not understand why, they may have the perception that I am being dishonest or nervous, as opposed to something I cannot control.  If the person lacks empathy and understanding, then I don't really want to work for that person anyway.

Don't hide in the dark away from others because you are embarrassed by your issues, be honest about them.  Most people will continue to judge you but that is their problem, not yours.  It is not like you asked to have these issues or wished them upon yourself.  The issues are there and we can only deal with them in the best way we can.  Our mental health issues are part of who we are whether we choose them or not.  How we deal with them and other people is our choice!

Begin understanding what lies behind the odd or erratic behaviours of others so you can better understand them, and you will begin to better understand yourself as well.  We can only remove the stigma by bringing the issues out into the open.  Start by trying it a little at a time and begin with people you have some trust for.  You will find that more people will be understanding as opposed to judgmental than you think.  In this day and age, I can not find a single person who is not suffering from a mental health issue, some just hide it better than others.

Hiding our issues is like suppressing bad memories, they are still there and getting worse all of the time until they are dealt with.  Let's start removing the stigma from mental health issues through honesty.  The more people that are honest about their issues, the more 'normal' we all begin to feel. Life is Suffering, and we are suffering together.  We just don't know it yet!

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