"1 in 4 people, like me, have a Mental Health problem. Many more have a problem with that.” – Stephen Fry
There’s something wrong with me. I’m defective. Damaged. Flawed. Not good enough.
If you’ve ever thought these thoughts, chances are you know the experience of Shame. One of the biggest fertilizers of this Shame is judgement, stigma, and stereotypes. Stigmas and stereotypes are endless in all walks and aspects of life. From race, religion, ethnicity, gender, and so many more.
I am going to focus today on one that lays near and dear to my heart and passion. These stigmas and stereotypes revolved around Mental Health, mental illnesses, therapy, and other issues of adversity that oppress men and women. I have personally struggled with mental health issues in my life. I know how debilitating depression, PTSD, and anxiety can be. Constantly beating yourself up, low self-esteem, worrying, racing thoughts, self-doubt, and loneliness can be exhausting and cause you to feel alone and misunderstood.
Things like bullying, teasing, minimization, criticism, and lack of empathy and understanding can exacerbate the existing issues and cause further alienation. But you are not alone.
One of my goals and passions in my work with Therapy Threads is not only to raise awareness about mental health issues, but spread knowledge, educate, and help to break the stigma, stereotypes, and barriers associated with not only mental illness, but treatments for healing and recovery.
I take a holistic, systemic view of these topics, knowing that often other factors such as family, trauma, genetics, and our past affect us deeply.
We must look at everything as a whole; not just in parts. As a structural therapist at heart, I feel it’s important to initially define important terms that will delicately be laced throughout this post and blog. As you look at these definitions, it is easy to see how mental health and mental illness could be easily connected with both of these words. One word that both of these definitions has in common is “unfair.” STIGMAS and STEREOTYPES are extremely UNFAIR. “But life is unfair,” you might say. Yes, unfortunately, life is unfair. But having to navigate an unfair life, with unfair stigmas and stereotypes about yourself, your health, your illness, your gender, race, ethnicity, age, etc.. a lot of things that are biologically determined, that you have absolutely no control of, is extremely overwhelming and stressful. My hope is to help to alleviate just a little of this unfairness by breaking down these damaging labels and stereotypes.
As defined by the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), mental illnesses are: “Medical conditions that disrupt a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others and daily functioning. Just as diabetes is a disorder of the pancreas, mental illnesses are medical conditions that often result in a diminished capacity for coping with the ordinary demands of life.”
Serious mental illnesses include: Major Depression, Schizophrenia, Bipolar Disorder, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Panic Disorder, Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and Borderline Personality disorder (BPD). Other illnesses and other serious adversities that affect mental health include, but are not limited to: Anxiety disorder, Eating disorders, Addictions, Domestic Violence, and Bullying. ▪The National Institute of Mental Health reports that one in four adults-approximately 57.7 million Americans-experience a mental health disorder in a given year.
According to Merriam Webster, “Stigma” is defined as: "a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something." In other words, it is a mark of disgrace; something to be shameful and embarrassed of.
And, according to Merriam Webster, “Stereotype” is defined as: "to believe unfairly that all people or things with a particular characteristic are the same."
Mental Health Myths
There are various myths about Mental Illnesses.
- One of the most widely believed and most damaging myths is that mental illness is a personal failure, not a physical disease. A recent study shows that the majority of Americans don’t believe that mental illness can be accurately diagnosed or treated.
Nothing could be farther from the truth.
Increasingly, we are learning that many mental disorders are biological in nature and can be medically treated—in some cases, more effectively than illnesses like heart disease. New drugs and better community health services are making it possible for even those with the most severe disorders to live healthier, more productive lives.
- A closely related and equally troubling myth is that young people don’t suffer from real depression; they’re just naturally moody, we think.
Again, this is simply untrue. We recently learned that even very young children experience serious clinical depression, and it should be taken seriously.
The majority of children who commit suicide are profoundly depressed, and the majority of parents whose children took their own lives say they didn’t recognize that depression until it was too late.
And senior citizens, too, often accept the notion that depression is a natural part of aging and don’t reach out for help. These myths don’t just harm people with mental disorders; they harm us all. That is why we must all do our part to break the silence about mental illness. You can read more about Mental Illnesses here: http://www.nami.org/template.cfm?section=about_mental_illness
The Good News
The good news about mental illness is that recovery is possible. “Mental illnesses can affect persons of any AGE, RACE, RELIGION, or INCOME. Mental illnesses are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing. Mental illnesses are treatable. Most people diagnosed with a serious mental illness can experience relief from their symptoms by actively participating in an individual treatment plan.”
“In addition to medication treatment, psychosocial treatment such as cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy, [family therapy, couple therapy] peer support groups and other community services can also be components of a treatment plan and that assist with recovery. The availability of transportation, diet, exercise, sleep, friends and meaningful paid or volunteer activities contribute to overall health and wellness, including mental illness recovery.”
The effects of stigma on Mental Health is detrimental to its recovery.
Many people INTERNALIZE their mental illnesses and disorders, making them a part of themselves and their identity — who they are — which helps keep the stigma alive and makes treatment and recovery almost impossible!
Stigma erodes confidence that mental disorders are real, treatable health conditions. We have allowed stigma and a now unwarranted sense of hopelessness to erect attitudinal, structural and financial barriers to effective treatment and recovery.
So please stay tuned and check back for more information on mental illness, mental health, wellness, and other vital topics. Stay tuned to also learn how YOU can help break down these barriers and erase the stigma associated with these serious illnesses that need treatment and support in order for people who suffer to overcome them and live a happy and healthy life, free of stereotypes and shame. Just remember. You are not alone.
“We need so much more transparency and understanding that it’s OK to talk about depression as an illness. It’s not a weakness. It’s not a mental shortcoming. It’s not something people brought on themselves.” – John F. Greden
Do you or someone you know struggle with a mental illness? What are the biggest stereotypes you face and how do you deal with them?
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