Stigma plagues society through our communities and is prominent within the media. There is no need to attach a stigma to any topic and yet humans do just that. It seems that what starts as an opinion or a passing comment can quickly cause complications for those at the rear end of the stigma-ridden sword.
Stigma has no positive effect, only negatives that, when it comes to mental health, can prevent a person from receiving support and treatment.
When you think about how stigma affects mental health, it is not just through a judgemental comment or false information being portrayed by the news channels, it has a larger effect than that.
When I think about how stigma has affected my life, I realize that a lot of my trials have been due to the response that the stigma has created. It is as if stigma is the gun and the person reinforcing it, is holding the trigger.
Stigma penetrated my life before I was even born, as my parents were raised in families and a generation in which mental health was not spoken about; it was certainly not seen as a real thing.
This means that I grew up not knowing what mental health was, through no fault of my parents because they didn’t know anything else. A lack of understanding of my mental health led me to become very ill and develop anxiety as well as depression.
These feelings became so pressing that I was an alcoholic at 14 and I also abused other substances. I do believe, that if the stigma did not exist and If mental health was normalized, I wouldn’t have put my body through so much abuse, as I would have had a healthy outlet.
When it came to my school years, I found that the education system was riddled with the stigma against mental health and it had a knock-on effect on my education. I fell behind in class and could not achieve my full potential as I found school was detrimental to my mental health.
No one wanted to help me succeed or find my path, I was truly alone but if this stigma did not exist, I could have got much better grades and avoided the trauma caused by bullying. It still makes me sad that I look back on my school years with such misery because it shouldn’t be that way, learning should be safe and fun.
Stigma even falls into your working life. I have found that the workplace can be heavily impacted by stigma which can cause horrific effects on mental health and even trauma.
My work was aware of my mental health, for it I was seen as a fragile or unable to do certain things, so I was prevented from climbing the career ladder. My mental health was seen as a weakness which could be prayed on, it was assumed that I could be taken for granted and milked of all my energy with no backlash.
What work did not understand was that my mental health did not prevent me from going above and beyond in my work and being a valuable employee, I could have been an asset, I was an asset but they lost me.
We should be able to go to work and earn a living without giving up our mental health. We should be able, to be honest about our mental health without being penalized at work, like taking mental health days rather than pulling a sickie due to fear of being fired. Employees work much better when their mental health is looked after, so why add a stigma to it?
Stigma comes at me from all angles really, it is seen when I go to the doctor about a problem and they assume that due to my mental health condition, that it must be due to that.
It is seen when I have to explain that I cannot drive or work despite being physically able. It is seen when I do not have children but stay at home while my husband works and yet I do not have a choice. It even falls into my gender, my social class and every aspect that makes me human and individual.
What the stigma does not see is the independent, headstrong woman who always finds a way to survive. It does not see the hard work and energy that I put into each day to peruse my career in writing and mental health advocacy. It ignores that I can still travel and have a very open and strong relationship with my husband.
Stigma forgets that a mental health condition cannot be defined by a set of textbooks or rules. A diagnosis or relapse cannot possibly represent who I am as a person. My physical appearance does not dictate my ability and nor does my mental illness. As much as no one knows the path you walked, you shouldn’t assume to know a person’s whole life story.
The only thing that stigma does is make life incredibly hard and can even cause death, as in my father’s case. The only person’s life we have the right to judge is our own, for that, we must stop forcing options and ideals on individuals, when really, we just need to listen and understand.
Why do we have to make life harder than it already is? We should just embrace who we are and learn to be kind.