Stigma – I’m not crazy and I’m not going to kill you!

Stigma.  Stigma creates so many barriers for those of us with mental illness.  I know it has prevented me from sharing my illness with people, at least when I was first diagnosed.  Although that quickly changed.  I was in nursing school – and I ended up in the psych hospital —- the same semester we were doing psych clinicals.  So, all my fellow students walked in there ready to work with the patients, and I was one of them.  I couldn’t hide it anymore.  I was so freaked out.  I ran to the room and shut the door and refused to come out.  It didn’t matter though, my name was up on the board and they had my chart.  My whole history!

After that, there was no point in hiding it.  I just decided to be open.  Of course, I still was in denial at this point and was in and out of the hospital.  I had dropped out of school for the semester after my first hospitalization, but still saw my fellow students throughout all my hospitalizations.  I was open with them about what was going on with me.  They never talked bad about me to my face and I think they were understanding.

Stigma really hurts though.  There are two types of stigma:

1. Social stigma – this is the attitudes, beliefs, and behaviors that other individuals direct towards those with mental illness

2. Self stigma – this is when the person with mental illness perceives the discrimination in their own way and internalizes it – leading to poor self esteem, guilt, shame, etc

Because of self stigma and social stigma, those with mental illness avoid treatment for fear of how they will be treated.  They do not want to be diagnosed with something that might make them “different” from others.  They do not want a diagnosis that will cause others to be scared of them.  Many people often think that those with mental illness are “dangerous” when in reality, people with mental illness are more likely to be victims of violence (by someone else or to themselves, i.e. self harm or suicide) than to be violent towards someone else (shooting, murder, all those stories they show on the media, etc). 

The only way to get rid of stigma is to continue to educate those around us about mental health and mental illness.  People might not want to hear about it.  We cannot push people to hear about it.  But we can bring it up here and there.  We can be honest about our struggles instead of hiding them.  If someone asks how we are doing, we can tell them, we can be truthful.  We can take off our masks and tell them we have bipolar or ptsd or anxiety or whatever we might have and explain we are having a rough day.  We can write to our leaders in government to help expand funding to mental health resources.  We can leave brochures at libraries or other public places about support groups.  We can make a difference in helping defeat the “bad name” that these disorders have gotten. 

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