Let's Talk About Stigma
In my experience, the stigma surrounding mental health issues is more silent than loud. It appears during subtle moments like disregarding one’s own pain, making jokes about certain disorders, and denying people validation for their feelings. I feel the root of the problem is that there is a legitimate lack of knowledge or awareness regarding the suffering associated with mental illness. That explanation feels almost like a cop-out, but it would be unfair to assume every individual that contributes to stigma has a vindictive motivation behind it; sometimes the reaction to people’s behavior is beyond what they imagined and intended. It’s more important, then, to continue widespread campaigns of normalizing mental health to eradicate that excuse. To contribute to that mission in my own way, I’d like to share how I view mental health. I think of mental health as resilience-- the quality of recovering successfully and quickly, and returning to a well-adjusted state after sustaining stress. Being well-adjusted, to me, means contentment in the face of everyday stressors. One of my favorite ways to conceptualize mental health is as an analogue to physical health; mental health means withstanding the invasion of infections (stressors) before they manifest as illness. People are born with different vulnerabilities to certain mental ailments just as they are for physical ones. As well, there are illnesses in both domains one would not want to let “run its course”-- like cancer, a broken bone, major depressive disorder, personality disorders, etc. So, this necessitates a more in-depth focus on mental health since it, arguably, presents the same risks to health as physical health. This can't happen if people's fear of being judged outweighs their desire to get healthier. Overall, I think the battle to eliminate stigma is a battle fought by individuals on a day to day basis. Catch people making mistakes and correct them, nicely. Be mindful of yourself and how you treat yourself. Believe and validate friends when they share difficult feelings with you. Ask for help. Promote asking for help. Share your own conceptualization of mental health with as many people as you can. Just don’t let the conversation die down. I know I won’t.
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