“Stigma, by definition, is a mark of disgrace or shame.
Stigma has four components:
- Labeling someone with a condition
- Stereotyping people who have that condition
- Creating a division — a superior “us” group and a devalued “them” group, resulting in loss of status in the community
- Discriminating against someone on the basis of their label”
It’s easy to think when your family is exposed to the realities of dealing with mental health issues that they will not be a part of spreading the shame of stigma. But, the honest truth is, they probably will be, and we are all capable of it.
Quite recently I sent out an email giving notice to family and friends of my upcoming participation in The Overnight. The Overnight is a fundraising effort to support the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention in its efforts to spread awareness and prevent suicide. You can read more about it here. I am so proud and happy to be a part of this walk. I am excited to bring awareness to this issue and I am excited for what it means to me personally to have overcome a lot of challenges to bring me to where I am today.
After sending out my email, a family member sent my husband a rather unpleasant email in response. She stated that she could not support me in my efforts and that it was an “adult pity party” to partake in this event. She continued to say that I was not focused on the gifts in my life such as my husband and children. She is pretty far removed from our day to day life and does not know me all that well, I should say, but her words still stung and hurt. I wanted to respond, but I knew it was not my place, nor would I be able to change her mind. Her perception of me is just that, hers. But it can be quite painful when a person’s words and attitude towards us is unkind and does not line up with the person we are working hard to be.
In fact, there is a link between this and suicide attempts. People who are treated in unkind ways, with unkind words on a consistent basis start to feel quite poorly about themselves. Having a poor self-image and self-worth leads to destructive thoughts and lies that we believe about ourselves, and it suffocates the reality of our true value and worth.
This is what stigma does to people. The stigma that comes with mental health issues hurts people at their basic core source of well-being, at the heart level. Clinging to thoughts that a person who suffers from depression or any mental illness is having a “pity party” or that they are “not right” relays the message that they are weak, damaged, and unlovable. These messages become a part of a person’s whole concept of themselves and can plummet them into further despair.
Can you see how we all have a responsibility to treat people with care and respect no matter what “illness” or challenge they may be suffering?
I am the first to admit that I have been difficult to deal with at times in my life, maybe I’ll even go so far as to say that I can be challenging on a daily basis. I may have had a pity party or two in my day. But, I am a person of value, regardless. I am a person who loves her family deeply and wants to care for them fully and well. I am not living my life in a perpetual “pity party” (although, I am ready to have a party!). I deserve to be treated with kindness and respect.
My point is that stigma hurts. Stigma can hurt any and all of us. How do we help? What can we do?
Speak out. Surround yourself with people who are sensitive to your health issues. Join in the advocacy and support networks. Openly discuss these issues and release the shame of stigma by exposing it and caring for those who experience it!
Let’s Stomp Out Stigma.