Nadean J. Barton
Silence the Stigma – Mental Health and Suicide Awareness
Though it is a hard and unfortunate reality to face, mental health issues are a common issue amongst millions. It is estimated that one out of every six people in the United States has experienced general mental health problems, such as depressive and anxiety triggering episodes, in just this past week alone. Of those people, nearly 10% are children, aging between 5 and 16 years old. This is a severe illness, negatively affecting the quality of life of every person who is suffering. What makes matters worse is that those who live with these mental health conditions, or have suicidal thoughts often live in the shadows and put on a mask to avoid being stigmatized for it.
Many people who are living with mental illness have, at some point, been blamed or discriminated due to it. Stigma causes people to feel ashamed for something that is out of their control. Worst of all, stigma prevents people from seeking the help they desperately need in order to get better. For people who already carry such a heavy burden, being shamed is an awful and unacceptable addition to their pain.
Common Mental Health Stigmas
Stigma revolving around mental health is common, and it hurts to say that this is still a concern in the year 2020. From small children, bullied victims, to military men and women, no one is exempt from obtaining mental health problems. It is not easy living with an inviable illness that others around you can never truly grasp. In fact, that is one of the biggest culprits of stigma development in the first place, lack of understanding. Those who are suffering do not speak up in fear of being stigmatized, and if they are brave enough to be vulnerable, they tend to become subjectively judged. Some of those particular judgments include:
- They are dangerous or violent (you can thank the media for this one)
- They are incompetent
- They are weak
- They are attention seekers
- And lastly, they are viewed negatively for getting treatment
Effects of Stigma
Nearly 75% of Americans do not seek the help that they need as a direct cause of being stigmatized. For children, it is the fear of becoming an outcast or subjecting themselves to becoming a bullied victim. For military personal, they could even lose their positions due to seeking help, even if they have been proudly serving for years prior. As for veterans, many times they will avoid admitting their problems because it has been so engrained into them that they can handle difficult situations on their own. They may be thinking, if I could go through what I did in the Army, then I can handle this deal with this now as well.
The labels mentioned above hold such power that the sufferer may unwillingly have it become incorporated into their identity. To avoid this, people hide. Hiding means they may not get the proper help they desperately need, resulting in prolonged or amplified problems that could have been remediated if they were not too afraid to take the appropriate steps. Even though help neglection is the top effect, additional impacts include:
- Lack of support from family and friends
- Fewer opportunities for career advancements
- Trouble finding housing
- Increased bullying and harassment
- Self-doubt, isolation, and feelings of intense hopelessness
- Worsened mental health symptoms and delayed recovery
- Loss of jobs for military members
We know what stigma is, and we understand how it impacts people’s lives. Now the big question is, how do we fight back to make lasting cultural changes? The truth is that there is no one real answer to solve this problem. It is made up of numerous avenues that all come together to paint the bigger picture. You may be thinking that you are just one person, but collectively we can make impeccable dents that can promote a much brighter future filled with acceptance and compassion. Here are some things you can start doing right now to create lasting societal impressions and inspire others to do the same.
- Educate Others – Share your stories with others and let them really observe what you are going through so they can see that you are more than your illness. Education is key to unlocking comprehensive understanding.
- Equalize Physical and Mental Health – When you are sick, you go to the doctors. When you are mentally ill, you go to a counselor or a psychiatrist. Let people around you know that in both cases, treatment is necessary should be treated as such.
- Choose Empowerment Over Shame – This can be hard, but with practice, you can turn those nasty labels into becoming an empowering fire for you to raise awareness and set the record straight. This will help the cultural movement much better than if you stayed inside and allowed those comments to eat at you.
- Speak Out Against Stigma – If you notice stigmatizing actions anywhere, such as at an event or on social media, speak out to help enlighten awareness and install courage for others to speak up too.
- Do Not Believe It – I know how vulnerable mental illness can make you feel, but never believe the lies society or your own voice may be telling you. You need to build work on building confidence and recognize untruthful comments when they are being fired at you. Never let other people’s ignorance influence the way you see or feel about yourself.
Stigma holds an unwieldy power, and together we need to fight back to make a change. Do not let society dictate how you should live your life. No matter how you contribute to raising mental health and suicide awareness, you can make an incredible impact just by speaking and give others the proper understanding that it is nobody’s fault, despite what stigma says. The best way to break the stigma is to keep fighting through and proving that your life is worth living and that you can rise above the nonsense. Continue to educate, be brave, do not hide, and most certainly do not let stigma labels define who you are so you can live the best life you possibly can.
Nadean J. Barton
Nobody should have to internalize pain due to stigma and discrimination over something they cannot control. We should be able to live in a world where there should never be any fear of backlash in trying to get the help you need.If you are suffering, please remember that your life matters, and you deserve to get better. Here are some excellent resources for you to reach out to obtain the treatment you deserve.
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