The Stigma of Mental Illness


I’ve heard many stories of people feeling ashamed of themselves for having a mental health condition that makes it hard for them to relate to others and/or cope with stress. I am saddened by this because I don’t think there is any need to feel ashamed of having a mental disorder. In fact, 9% of American adults have felt depressed at some point of their lives and 3.4% of Americans suffer from Major Depressive Disorder, according to CDC. The CDC also states that Forty million Americans suffer from anxiety disorders. Unfortunately, many people use the term “crazy”, “insane”, “wacko”, “psycho” and “bipolar” to describe people’s undesirable behavior. This adds to the stigma and if you find yourself using such derogatory language, I recommend your using other words to say that the behavior is strange or upsetting. Of course, we have all probably said something unkind like that, and we can’t do anything about the past other than to decide that it wasn’t helpful behavior and that we can change it starting now.

If you suffer from a mental disorder, I hope that you consider that these people are often speaking out of hate and/or ignorance. Sometimes people are not necessarily hateful, but misguided in their statements. If someone who is not your psychotherapist or psychiatrist advises you to quit taking medication and/or psychotherapy, I hope you discuss it with your qualified medical professional first before taking the word of someone who may not know from whence they speak. Also, realize that most psychiatric medication is not something you get “hooked on” (aside from a class of anti-anxiety drugs called benzodiazepines), and that taking it doesn’t make a person “weak” or “a druggie.” Religious leaders who say that all you need is God, not medical treatment for your disorder, are also to be regarded with suspicion (in my opinion).

If you think the person who is saying unwise, unkind things to you will listen to you and take responsibility for what they’re doing, you can point out to them that their behavior is hurtful and that you’d prefer that they stop. Or, if you think they can’t be influenced in a positive direction or you’ve tried numerous times to let them know you don’t find their comments helpful, you can avoid contact with them or change the subject. The bottom line is that it’s your life, your decision, and your wellness that are most important to you. I hope that you don’t care so much what other people think about you that you avoid having a rich, full life with socialization and enjoyment among other people because of this stigma. You deserve to enjoy your life just as much as anyone else, regardless of what diagnostic label may have been assigned to you. I want you to feel comfortable knowing that we all have our unique challenges in life, and no one challenge is better or more important than any other challenge.

One organization that has done tremendous good in educating and advocating for people with mental illness is National Association on Mental Illness (NAMI). I encourage you to contact them for more information and to see what programs they have that could be of use to you. There are also support groups for family members of mental illness, because mental illness can affect the whole family. NAMI’s website is http://www.nami.org/Find-Your-Local-NAMI.

If you need help healing from the stigma of mental illness, I hope you contact me at 661-233-6771. We can get through this, and many other difficult situations, together.

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