Lets stamp out stigma together

It is so important to me in my passion to raise awareness in mental health to talk through the issue of stigma and discuss why I feel that it is so important to do my part in stamping out stigma and educating on Mental health conditions and what they mean.

I also want to educate people suffering mental health issues, that the fact you are going through or have been through a mental health issue, does not have to be a great big black cloud above you forever where it's a given that you will loose your job, home family and friends, suffer a  life sentence or that it is proof that you are crazy and will be dragged out of society and banished forever for your sins!

I hate stigma as I believe that it keeps anyone suffering with a mental health issue ashamed of who they are and keeps them silent and feeling unable to speak out or get the help they may need. This tends to be because they are worried about the effect this will have on them, their prospects and what others think of them, lengthening recovery time and promoting further suffering.

Most people will suffer a blip to their mental health at some point in their lives, it is more than possible to recover and is not a given that it will happen ever again. This means that most if not all of the people that you know will also suffer or will have already suffered a mental health issue in their lifetime. This is just how common it is, so why are people so scared for others to know or to speak out and get the help they need, or be afraid to just be who they are? Because of the stigma attached to mental health that is why and this sad fact is wrong on so many levels.

People end up frightened to talk to anyone about how they feel for fear of what others may think of them and the affect it will have on them in society. They keep things to themselves and go to great lengths to look and act normal. They then suppress their own feelings and the issue inside them builds up until negative thinking patterns take over completely.

What they are actually suffering is symptoms of an illness that will go away. No one would ignore or avoid you if you got chicken pox and then spots with it, so why do they with symptoms of mental illness?. The person they always have been is still there, under the illness just waiting to re emerge.

Because of stigma, people effectively feel they have to suffer in silence - what a lot of tosh!

If you are suffering with a mental health condition and finding it hard to function as normal whilst in the throes of your condition it can be difficult to face family and friends because to them you look the same and the expectation on you to function, work, be part of the family and socialise with friends is the same, but you feel different and are at least for the moment unable to function to the same capacity you did before.

If you had a noticeable physical condition then this reaction from others tends not to be the same mainly as they can see a reason for your incapacity and there is rarely major changes to your personality while you are going through your physical illness. Physical illness tends to attract sympathy, mental illness may initially attract sympathy, but this is soon replaced by irritability and frustration. (I am of course not saying that this is how every person reacts to someone with mental illness, only pointing out why people can find it so hard to accept that a person they are used to in a certain way has changed so much). This is why stigma and silence in sufferers is so prevalent.

One of this issues here is that any mental health issue is very difficult to understand until you have felt how it feels yourself. 

With any invisible illness such as anxiety other people tend to adapt the attitude that the person with a mental health issue must pull themselves together and snap out of it, and that it can be easy for them to do that. People cannot be blamed for the fact they don't understand, if they don't appreciate how it feels to be uncontrollably anxious how could they understand?.  Don't give them a hard time for this, they have no idea how it feels and will probably think they are helping, it's the only way they know.

What's happening to you, will take time to get better, you did not fall into these thinking patterns over night and so will not recover overnight, just like a broken leg, you will take time to recover and build your new habits of thinking. So give yourself a break and accept that this is the way things are going to be for a time while being firm with people around you stating how things are and what you need from them to help you to overcome this. Never be afraid to speak out for what you need.

Sometimes this stigma can attract very hurtful comments from other people who are less educated in mental health. Comments such as you are 'nuts' or 'unhinged' are not uncommon. Comments like these are hurtful and not helpful at all, it may help to note that people who are capable of making comments like this are small minded individuals who have absolutely no idea what they are talking about and are better of being ignored!. Adapt the attitude of not caring what these people think of you. Your condition is not the whole you, it is a small part of who you are and the real you is still underneath waiting to re emerge in time. Trust me you are better off without these kinds of people in your life.

Focus only on yourself and the people closest to you, they are the people that matter.

Important points to remember.

Issues such as Anxiety and Depression can happen to anyone at anytime. In fact research shows that 1 in 4 people will go through some sort of mental health difficulty at some point in their lives. Sadly in the 12 years that I suffered from anxiety and depression, I have seen quite a few friends and other people also go through an episode too. These were people I would never have thought would struggle with an anxiety disorder so it really does not matter how confident and strong people seem, it can happen to them too.

You may feel alone in your struggles, but the reality is you are not alone, there are many thousands if not millions of people going through it too across the world. Stress issues are massive now in current society with the expectation placed upon us socially and economically, in some ways it would be safe to presume that there are more people suffering a mental health issue than there are well people!

If you feel ashamed of how you are then you need to ask yourself, how many people actually notice you have an anxiety problem?.

This is the point. Unless you tell them people who don't spend every waking minute with us don't actually notice as we hide it well. People are also often far too wrapped up in their own life's and problems to focus on you to that degree. It's our perception that people will notice. I certainly didn't walk around with a big sign attached to my head saying 'My name is Michelle and I suffered with Depression and Panic Disorder', I am sure you don't either.

When People make small minded flippant comments, remember they may not actually be being deliberately cruel, often when people have no personal experience of any type of condition be it physical, or mental, they absolutely cannot understand what you are going through or how it feels.

Finally, be careful who you talk to....

I say this because while it can be helpful to pour out your heart to everyone around you, if people have no experience of anxiety they can often offer the wrong advice and make unhelpful comments that can make you feel worse in the short term. A good example is something that happened to me around 15 years ago when I was first experiencing symptoms.

Let's set the scene, Imagine I was feeling this huge surge of adrenalin in all my normal situations and also depression at its worst in the early days, with no real knowledge of what was happening to me. I happened to confide to a lady at work how I was feeling and her reaction was to comment' Oh my god is that not verging on insanity?!!!'. Let me tell you in my fragile state at the time I think it's safe to say that a comment like that did me absolutely no favours what so ever, all that happened was my worry went into overdrive and for a time I felt much worse. I learnt a valuable lesson the hard way, that it's good to talk, but only to the right people.

On the other hand talking to other anxiety sufferer's can also be unhelpful unless they are prepared to look at the positive and not just wallow in their own feelings and self pity by focusing on everything they can't or will never do because of their fears. Trust me this will only drag you down and encourage you to wallow in symptoms and feelings. If that is how they want to react to things then that is their choice and it will take them much longer to feel better. Remember you are here to recover and so should focus on positives not negatives.

Another issue with talking often to other sufferers is that it creates a tenancy to compare yourself to them, Everyone is an individual and everyone is suffering for different reasons. You can never compare your journey to that of someone else and if you do then you are foolish as worrying how bad someone else seems can drag you down as you worry you will be the same, when you have absolutely no idea about their personal situation or why they are where they are. This can be very self defeating.

If you currently have some issue with Anxiety and Depression and the stigma that surrounds you, please remember that it is just a short blip in the broad scope of your life. Do not be scared to stand proud and be yourself. You are only human and everyone will have some hardship at some point in their lives, however  that hardship may manifest, that is a normal part of the journey of life.

Stop caring what others think of you or what you may lose and channel your energies into concentrating on learning the knowledge and coping skills needed to regain and maintain your quality of life. 

Making this web site exposed me greatly as now everyone has the possibility of knowing my past, but that is a great thing actually as now I am exactly who I am, and the most important people to me accept me exactly as I am. I am not frightened to stand up and be proud of who I am and the past I have had and if it helps to stamp out stigma and help others be who they are then it is worth my own self exposure

So let us change the 'What ifs' to 'So what',  and let us stamp out stigma together, one step at a time.