Beating the Stigma

Things are not always as they seem.

My grandmother and I on vacation.

I will no longer allow my mental illness to define me. Being labeled as mentally ill has the potential to create difficulties in many ways. But giving in to the stigma behind mental illness, makes things worse for those who are already suffering. I hope that one day our society will be more accepting of those suffering from a mental illness. As a woman struggling with mental illness, it is only one small part of the many facets of my personality. I have a life story, a loving family and a personality that is separate from my diagnoses.

Revealing mental illness to others often creates discrimination and alienation, although it should not. Additionally, those suffering from a mental illness struggle more in the workforce. For example, they may have trouble performing job duties that others may not find as challenging. This is not due to laziness. But they are less likely to be hired if employers know of their mental illness. Sometimes people, even those with good intentions, give in to stereotypes because they are not fully educated about mental illness, its causes, and symptoms. Furthermore, many individuals have undiagnosed mental illnesses but are reluctant to seek help. Stigmatization makes people less likely to seek professional help for fear of being labeled as mentally ill. People should not be afraid to seek help, so that they can be diagnosed earlier in life and have proper interventions to prevent further complications.

Differences are what make the world go ‘round. I personally feel uncomfortable when I reveal my mental illness to others who are not suffering from mental illness for fear of what they might think of me. Many individuals suffering from mental illness become homeless or even commit suicide because they did not seek help in time. Men, in particular, are hesitant to seek help because it goes against the way they were socialized to not show their feelings or ask for help. People tend to have these preconceived ideas in their mind about what a person with mental illness looks or acts like. But some fail to recognize that everyone is different—with or without a mental illness. You should not judge someone based on a mental illness, just like you would not judge someone with a physical illness such as diabetes or cancer. We are all individuals with our own unique stories, backgrounds and personalities.

If we start talking about it more openly and honestly with others, I hope that we can one day change the way people view this group of individuals. People are born with mental illness or acquire it in some other way such as genes, environment, or experiencing a traumatic event. Mental illness is a disease, it is no more our fault than any other illness. You would not criticize someone in a wheelchair, so why judge someone based on their mental illness?

Mental illness is not a death sentence—it can be managed. Throughout my life, I have been to multiple therapists, psychiatrists, hospitals, and treatment centers in an attempt to tame my mental illness. Today I can attest that through hard work and perseverance, I have earned a Bachelor’s Degree in psychology and even graduated cum laude. I have learned to treat my mental illness through a holistic approach. Through diet, exercise, coping mechanisms, therapy, meditation, spirituality, medication and a very supportive family. I have learned to live with my mental illness and even embrace it at times. For example, it led me to pursue a degree in psychology.

Although I have come a long way, recovery is not linear. It has peaks and valleys. I know that I will never totally overcome this. But I do hope to be able to help those who suffer from mental illness and educate others in hopes that one day we can help end the stigma behind mental illness. I challenge you to try to beat the stigma by talking about this taboo subject with someone you know or even let them read this article.

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