Friday, 4 January 2013

Stomp out stigma-- Start with YOU

So today I was thinking...
Of course I was thinking, I'm always thinking- Great, now I'm even thinking about thinking.

Back on track now...

[TO CLARIFY: In this post I separate physical health from mental health in order to compare why there is more stigma around mental health. I DO NOT believe that they are separate entities at all. Health is Health, good or bad, visible or not.]

Social Media, charaties and organizations are working to eliminate stigma surrounding mental illness. Why is there stigma around an illness that manifests invisibly in the brain, as opposed to an illness which is physically present? I think the main issue is ignorance toward the reality and commonality of mental in illness in contrast to the many stereotypes- psycho, crazy, loner...

On top of this, symptoms of mental illness are a lot harder to spot than symptoms of physical health. If you have the flu you may be sweaty, sluggish and vomiting... people around you may not want to get to close!- but they most likely feel a sense of empathy toward you, as they can see you are not feeling well. And will probably excuse you for being grouchy, or not getting all of your work done.

However what if those surrounding you are unaware you have an illness? And you're in a depressive state, trying you're very hardest to keep your head above water. Everything is exhausting. You may start to fall behind at work, or show up late, making you seem lazy. Or maybe everything you're going through has increased your stress level so much that you snap at a friend or co-worker. They probably just think you're being a bitch. Theres a good chance you'll with-draw from people and not be very sociable, making you no fun to be around.

SIDE NOTE: even if someone does recognize your recent behaviours are not normal for you they may ask "are you feeling okay?"... and instead of simply saying "I have the flu" you'd have to reply with something like "I suffer from depression, I have Bipolar, I have Schizophrenia," each of these infinitely more difficult to say, let alone explain to a person who may or may not be supportive.

These are symptoms as a result of mental illness. You are sick, no different from the flu. Except that, from the outside you seem well, so your "symptoms" are most likely perceived as character flaws.

Bringing me to the rant about you, yes YOU. Whoever you are, if you suffer from a mental illness (including ME) read this.

We, (those of us sick) are working to see a change in the way people view mental illness and those effected by it; by attempting to change the opinions of those who let their ignorance of mental disease effect the way the see and treat sufferer's... I'm not by any means saying anyone involved in trying to educate others and raise awareness should stop, I will always advocate for those with mental illness, as I did even before I was diagnosed. BUT how can we expect others to see us as being worth love and compassion if its not even seen by ourselves?

I've been reading a ton of blogs about Bipolar and other Mental illnesses, often what I discover is that the general self view/perception, is one of a negative nature, feelings of being a burden or unlovable and so on. Once again, I'm not saying this is is everyone or that its not understandable to feel this way, as I often feel this way. A lot of the negative thoughts people with mental illness oppose on themselves are very similar to those felt by people physically ill.

But heres the ugly truth, how can others love/understand/empathize with those affected by mental illness if we don't love/understand/empathize with ourselves?

The task of learning to apply these things toward ourselves is no smaller task than trying to get wide-spread social attitudes to change regard to mental health.

If you have any friends or family you feel you can be open with about your illness, doing so will be a huge step toward creating more awareness about mental illness, the more people know (as in number of people AND amount of information) the less the stigma.

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