Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Challenging Stigma: Mental Health Month Blog Party

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Being open about my depression and anxiety is one way I try to challenge the stigma associated with mental health issues. I want to use this blog as a forum to say it's okay to own our mental health conditions rather than feeling as though we need to shy away in embarrassment and shame. They are what they are. We don't ask for them. We do our best to treat them. We're not dangerous or scary. I want to say look at me as an example. I'm a seemingly "normal" person, yet I fit squarely within the label of having mental health issues.

One of the worst parts of the suggestion that people with mental health issues are scary is that so many of us deal with them. Although 1 in 4 Americans experiences a mental illness in a given year, only 30 to 40% of us will seek treatment for our conditions. Stigma is a big reason for this. (As is access, which I recently addressed in this post: Impact of Health Reform on Patient Mental Health Needs).

Not only do those of us with mental health issues face a higher level of stigma than people with other types of disabilities, we also treat ourselves poorly. We tend to use that stigma as a reason to mistreat ourselves the way a misguided outsider might. While we are challenging the stigma we find in the world, we must also confront the stigma we find within ourselves. We are wonderful individuals with many gifts and positive attributes. Our mental health issues do not explain or define us. They are just one part of who we are.

Stigma keeps people from asking for help and makes people feel pathetic when they do ask for help. Make no mistake: Asking for help is an act of bravery. It takes courage to say out loud that you are struggling. Many of us are not able to do so. There is no judgment either way, but don't ever feel like a failure for letting someone know you need help.

Perhaps the most important thing I want to ask of you today is to please keep this phone number handy in case you or someone you love experiences a mental health crisis: Know the Lifeline: 1‐800‐273‐TALK. Many of us who are suffering will never reach that point in our illnesses, but as people who are working to see past stigma and judgment, we've got to be prepared to help if someone we love needs it.

If you're a Twitter user, search for the hashtags #mentalhealth and #mhm2010 to find related posts from other writers. You'll likely find a number of them today as other bloggers participate in the American Psychological Association's Mental Health Month Blog Party (@APAHelpCenter on Twitter).

Thank you for opening your minds and being willing to challenge stigma.

Mental Illness Stigma is Fading
Tools to Reduce Stigma of Mental Illness
Anti-Stigma: Do You Know the Facts?
Mental Health Awareness & Stigma

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DISCLAIMER: Nothing on this site constitutes medical or legal advice. I am a patient who is engaged and educated and enjoys sharing my experiences and news about migraines, pain and depression. Please consult your own health care providers for advice on your unique situation.