Fight the Stigma

Fight the Stigma

Another life lost. This disease has claimed another victim. And its so sad. It’s frustrating, because while there’s no “cure” it can be treated. The symptoms can be minimized. But the biggest barrier isn’t the cost of treatment. It isn’t that it’s a stupendously expensive prescription pill. It’s not that you need to spend thousands and thousands of dollars for a special surgery.

No, the biggest hinderance to getting treatment is society. It’s the attitude, the stigma that still persists that having a mental illness makes you different. That struggling with suicidal thoughts makes you weak, an attention seeker. That having bipolar disorder means you’re unstable. That having anxiety attacks and panic attacks just means you’re incapable of handling stress. That fighting OCD means you’ve lost your grip on reality.

And the stigma makes me sad. It makes me angry. It’s an illness. One I wish I didn’t have, but would be grateful beyond words if I would be the last person on the planet to face a mental illness. It’s one that has no outward signs. I don’t have a cast, like a broken arm. I don’t have to watch what I eat because I’m diabetic. I don’t have to go for chemotherapy and radiation because I have cancer. You could take blood test after blood test. You could send me for xrays and an MRI and you’d still never see a trace of it.

No, it’s in my head. Not like a hypochondriac, where I constantly think I have this sickness or that sickness. Instead it’s actually in my head. It’s literally the way my brain is wired. I didn’t choose this, and if I chose it I’d very quickly un-choose it if I could. Instead, it’s almost like it chose me. Because for me, depression and anxiety aren’t just things. They’re not just a passive illness.

Instead it’s almost like they’re alive. Like they’re sentient beings, who have animosity for me. Who feed on silence and isolation. Like they’re constantly adapting to my fight against them, because one thing will work for a while, and suddenly it’s not as effective anymore. Or how they’re strongest when I’m feeling mentally or emotionally tired, or I’ve isolated myself too much – they feed on that, and grow stronger. But conversely, when I talk about it – when I describe it and explain it to people who don’t know – they weaken. When I spend time with people who care about me, they weaken. When I actively take care of myself – not just my body’s needs but my emotional needs and my physical surroundings – they weaken.

But what angers me about all this – the damn stigma that society has. It’s infuriating because daily – DAILY – people die from mental illnesses. From suicide

It’s a horrible place to be at where all you want to do is cease to exist – because this illness has taken away your self confidence. It’s lied to you so long that you honestly believe you are hurting those around you, you’re dragging them down and that they’d all be happier and better off without you. That you’re a drag on them mentally and emotionally so you isolate yourself. I’ve been there. Far too many times to count and for far too long at a time. But at that point I was more afraid of what people would think about me if I admitted how far down I was, than I was of death. In fact death seemed far more appealing than seeking help – or admitting I needed help.

So really – I could have taken my own life, and the biggest thing on my mind was what acquaintances would think If they knew about my anxiety and depression, and sparing those close to me from being hurt and dragged down by my mental state. Think about that. There was a point in my life where quite literally I’d rather die than admit I had a problem. – the fear of what others would think about me kept me from seeing how bad I really was, and how much I need help.

The stigma around mental illness just about killed me. That’s not a glib phrase. It’s a fact. Read that sentence again, and think about it word for word. Not an exaggeration. Not an overstatement. In every sense of the word, the stigma surrounding mental illness just about cost me my life. There’s no other way of saying it.

So what can you do?

1) take time for us (By “us” I mean we who struggle with mental illnesses) Spend time with us. As us how it’s REALLY going, then listen. Don’t offer advice, but by all means ask us if you don’t understand. 
2) Take a stand for us with your friends, family, and co-workers. We can’t change the stigma by ourselves, but every voice on our side helps
3) Support local mental health initiatives. Donate time and/or money. 
4) Do your own research – 1 in 5 people in North America will struggle with a mental illness in their lifetime. So if you know 5 people, one of them will be affected, and chances are very high that someone you know right now is struggling. Learn about their mental illness – it’ll help them feel understood and you’ll have a better idea how stable influence for them.

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