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Explaining stigma

ysgrifennwyd gan Joanne 23/01/2014

Explaining stigma
So many people see mental health as “a mark of disgrace”. Something undesirable. Something socially unacceptable.

“I don't believe there is such a thing as “depression”, I think people just need to pull themselves together.”

Something that more than one friend has said to me,

We can all be ignorant about things, can’t we?  If people are uneducated about mental health, and it is ingrained in society that mental health issues are “not worthy” or “weak”, why would people understand?

I have also had someone I regarded as a close friend completely cut me off because I was ill. I try to see it as their issue, not mine. But it does hurt.

Even in this case, although I am shocked that someone could behave in this way, I know that it often comes down to a complete ignorance of mental health and that person not being able to deal with it. This is not excusing that behaviour, but gives some reasoning behind why it happened.

What mental health issues have I experienced? In some ways, in relation to this blog, it is irrelevant. It is irrelevant because so many people experiencing so many different mental health issues have one common problem: Stigma.

What is stigma?

The Oxford Dictionary defines stigma as:

  • "a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person"

So many people see mental health as “a mark of disgrace”. Something undesirable. Something socially unacceptable.

Maybe I am just as guilty in some ways. I certainly don't view other people with mental health issues in a negative light and I see their conditions as just as worthy of assistance as anyone with a physical condition. However, I seem to view my own mental health differently.

once an attitude, view or opinion is ingrained in society, it is difficult to “un-do”

Even now that I can talk about mental health, it doesn't stop me having thoughts like “I am weak” or “I need to pull myself together and get over it”.  Thoughts like this have previously prevented me from seeking help.  I had postnatal depression in 2013 and even though I had it once before, I still had the “I am not going to the doctor” thoughts. I did not want to be perceived as someone who was “not normal”. After a car accident in 2007, my anxiety was sky high. I couldn't function properly. My physical injuries were addressed straight away, because I let them be. However, it was a number of months before I sought help for the anxiety I was experiencing. The reason was nothing to do with the actual depression or anxiety itself, but everything to do with my own self stigma associated with it and all of society's stigma lumped on.  I didn't want the 'mental health' label attached to me by myself, friends, employer or society. I was desperate not to fall into that bracket. Thoughts like this, perpetuated by external stigma, gave rise to me feeling even more worthless than I did already due to the condition, itself. My self-esteem and self-worth were so low in all three of these situations and the culprit was stigma, much of it my own. 

But why?

It is so common. 1 in 4. So what is the big deal with seeking help?

It's a perpetual cycle. Society does not give mental health the status it deserves; some people in society think of mental health as being “weird” or “not real”; this makes people think their mental health problems are not viewed as important or “real” (which can contribute to self stigma); people don't talk about it, which feeds into society not giving mental health the status it deserves.

And the cycle continues. It will continue until mental health is given the recognition and understanding that it deserves. It is campaigns like “Time to Change” that have given me the confidence to talk about my own mental health and mental health in general. It is only by people talking about their own mental health, talking to others about their mental health, and challenging stigma and discrimination that will change the status of how mental health is viewed by us all.  It is a long process, because once an attitude, view or opinion is ingrained in society, it is difficult to “un-do”.

That's why we need to start talking now!

Joanne

What is mental health stigma? Find out here.

Os hoffech chi sgwennu cofnod blog am eich profiadau o stigma, ebostiwch info@timetochangewales.org.uk

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