What’s the stigma behind mental illness?

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Let’s face it. There’s a mental illness stigma.  We have been brought up to believe that people who have been labeled with some sort of emotional or mental illness have a really disturbed side. Most of us, don’t even understand the complexity of what mental illness is. And, even more people, just merely repeat what they have heard somewhere else, without even knowing for sure what any of these psychopathologies mean.

Ignorance seems to be at the culprit of our constant stigmatization to all of those things that are different to what we are used to. We are going to take a risk here and just say that all of us have met, at least, one person that’s struggling with some sort of mental illness. Even if they haven’t shared it openly, even if they don’t talk about it. Maybe they don’t even know for sure or are scared of admitting it, because of what the reaction of others could be. Maybe that person is even us.

Mental health is stigmatized because we are not used to what we don’t understand. It makes us feel uncomfortable. It takes us out of our comfort zone. It is unknown territory. Being so, the immediate reaction is to reject it. As human beings, we tend to push away all of those things that seem to be out of the box. We perceive that whatever doesn’t fit in there is a latent danger for us.

That makes all of the situation even more complex because frequently people with mental illness don’t feel that they can openly talk about it. Sometimes all they want is to be able to express themselves, without feeling that there is something utterly wrong with them

Self-stigma vs. social stigma

To understand more clearly what we mean by mental illness stigma, let’s differentiate between self-stigma and social stigma.

The first one has to do with how the person who has it is experiencing it. What they feel or think towards themselves. Their inner chatter. The non-acceptance of the situation.

Our formal education has long taught that only certain ways of thinking, feeling and acting are acceptable. This has lead to great emotional and mental distress. This has, without a doubt, excluded the possibility to go through our own ways of experiencing life. When someone realizes that they have some sort of what’s labeled as mental illness, there can be a range of different emotions and thoughts that can be experienced.

On one side, some could even feel relief of being able to pinpoint and, perhaps, understand even a bit better what it is that they’re going through. It’s like finally finding a missing puzzle piece. By acknowledging what they are going through, they regain their power and a deeper understanding that it all truly does has an explanation to it.

What happens on the other side, though? Shame and guilt are feelings that can come associated with having a mental disorder. Magnificent human beings that feel that there is something within them that has to be eliminated or fixed. It’s all the inner noise, where the non-approval of who we are and what we are going through is always present.

With social stigma, different actors comes into place. A discriminating behavior and a negative attitude comes from everyone else that the person who has the mental illness has to deal with. Some of the most common mental health stigmas, have to do even with our closest circles. Family members have often a hard time coping when one of them acts in a way that seems difficult to understand for the rest. Without it being their intention, they can isolate the person that’s going through it, making the whole situation more difficult to deal with.

Other scenarios where social stigma takes place is the workplace. Employees are expected to comply to certain attitudes and ways of doing. Whatever doesn’t fit the established norm of the entity of work is categorized as faulty. Someone who is completely brilliant might feel that he or she is not good enough, simply because they are experiencing mental pain.

Breaking stigmatization of mental illness

We are prone to accept much more easily those things that we can see. If someone, for example, has some sort of physical illness, we tend to normalize it. It’s something that our senses can recognize. When it is invisible, which tends to be the case in lots of mental and emotional illnesses, we block it down and can make it very difficult for people who are going through it to know that their suffering is also taken into account.

You wouldn’t make someone feel bad because they have a broken leg, would you? You wouldn’t exclude someone because they have cancer, would you? You wouldn’t So why on Earth would you make someone with any kind of mental illness feel uncomfortable?

All of this is unconscious, of course, and we do know that we are all doing the very best that we can. That’s why we think it’s important to talk about things more openly. To know that when people feel that they are seen, that they are a part, that they belong, that they have nothing to fear.

Our invitation is to jump out of the box. To open up our minds and realize that there is a broad world out there. That there are so many of us living in this planet, that it is impossible that we all adhere to the same ways of living. People who have a mental illness have the same rights as we do, to experience all that life has to offer.

Instead of wanting others to change and fit our preconceived ideas, what would happen if we go the extra mile and try to understand a bit more what this is all about? What if we can let go of our fears and inform ourselves in depth? What if we take the vow to stop propagating all of these stigmas, that in reality do so much harm?

Have you or anyone you know experiences mental illness stigma? If so, we would love to hear about it. Let’s inspire change. Let’s come up with ideas to stop this. Let’s come together and say a strong firm stop to stigmatization.

And, if you are going through this, let us repeat it loud and clear: there’s absolutely nothing to be ashamed of. All of you is seen. All of you is welcome. All of you belongs.