Being diagnosed with a mental illness is like being slapped in the face…twice. On one side of things, you’re dealing with symptoms that can be paralyzing at times. On the other, you’re suddenly faced with the stereotypes and prejudice of your diagnosis, and all of the misconceptions that surround what having a mental illness looks like.
Although we’ve come a long way (thanks in part to campaigns such as #BellLetsTalk) we still have a long way to go in the world of stigma.
For a little background, there are two types of stigma: social stigma and self stigma. Social stigma is probably what you’re thinking of, and it refers to the prejudice and discriminatory attitudes towards a mental health label. Self-stigma, on the other hand, refers to the internalization of perceived discrimination, which can lead to blame, social isolation, and low self-esteem.
I must confess, despite being very pro-mental health, I have been affected by self-stigma for a long time. In the past I have felt so burdened by self-stigma that I denied having an eating disorder to several physicians even while enrolled in an eating disorder program. I have been terrified at the idea of medication because that seemed like something needed to be “fixed”. On another occasion, I was so overwhelmed with internalizing my mental illness that I was unable to tell my psychiatrist that I was struggling.
Having such a closed book with regards to my mental health only reinforced the idea that it wasn’t acceptable to struggle, and that I was to blame for my mental illness. Somewhere deep down I had the perception that being diagnosed with a mental illness made me weak.
But wow, was I ever wrong. Having a mental illness does NOT make you weak. In fact, I think it makes you pretty badass. Some of the strongest people you know have had to battle some of the toughest mental illness, and just because your genes, biology, and environment led you to develop this (just like any other disease), does not make it your fault.
So why was I slapping myself in the face for struggling, when I would never think of doing the same to someone else? Why was I just contributing to the cycle of stigma when I was so anti-stigma?
So, here’s the challenge. Next time think, or better yet, say out loud: “F*ck the stigma”, “I’m not okay”, and “I deserve to treat myself better”.