The stigma behind mental health
It’s all about conversation and openess
Article: Sonia Stanger – Contributor
When I started treatment for depression and anxiety last month, I was scared. I was scared that people, when I told them, would think I was crazy. I’d seen the way friends who live with mental illness have felt stigmatized and disenfranchised. It has always made me angry. The stigma around mental health, around talking about it, persists in our society. This is reflected in the lack of a social safety net for people who do live with mental illness, who are some of the most vulnerable, and are often forced to the margins. But this is not to say that mental health is not an “average” problem. What I’ve found, to my surprise, since opening up, are stories. When I share with people what I’ve been going through, more often than not, they share something in kind. Whether it’s their own story or that of a friend or relative, nearly everyone I talk to about my experience with depression has something to relate. In university, where stress runs so high and the future often feels so uncertain, it’s really no wonder that so many are anxious and depressed. And that these are such common experiences makes me wonder why we’ve all been made inclined to be ashamed about them.
When I told my mum that I was embarrassed about beginning medication, she asked whether I would be embarrassed if I was diabetic and needed insulin. It was an analogy that I’d heard before, but I let it really sink in for the first time, and I think it is an important notion to consider. I am not saying that openness, honesty, and dialogue will change the game entirely in the realm of mental health. More needs to be done on the public level to provide support. But, perhaps, if people can be made to feel like mental illness is not something to be hidden, to be quiet about, to be ashamed of, living with it would be easier. An open dialogue means being able to ask for help when we need it, to ask for a break when we need it, to ask for understanding, when we need it, none of which is a cause for shame.
I have felt so lucky to find that my friends, my family, my professors, and my peers make it easy to be open; that I haven’t been made to feel ashamed. Being able to talk openly about the process of treatment has been a huge relief. That relief and support and love are things that everyone deserves to feel. Removing the stigma around mental illness starts with conversation and openness. If you are dealing with an issue of mental health, please don’t hesitate to reach out. These things can have a way of making us feel more alone than we truly are. There is no shame in asking for help when we need it. You may even find that you are stronger, tougher, and braver in doing so.