Stigma: A mark of disgrace or infamy; a sign of severe censure or condemnation, regarded as impressed on a person or thing; a ‘brand’; A distinguishing mark or characteristic (of a bad or objectionable kind).”
On my heart today: stigma. We are destroying people with stigma. It is said that nearly 75% of people who struggle with mental health issues do not seek help due to the shame attached to doing so. This means a majority of our friends and family members are not admitting they struggle with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, mental health disorders, eating disorders, OCD, etc. because we have created an environment where they feel judgment will be attached to these admissions.
And I say this: look at your friend. Look at your family member. If they suffer from depression, are they that depression? If they suffer from anxiety, are they that anxiety? If they self-harm, are they that self-harm? If they are suicidal, are they that darkness? If they are diagnosed with bipolar or schizophrenia, is that label who they are? If they struggle to eat, are they their barely touched meal? If their OCD “quirks” prevent them from functioning at optimum level, are they those quirks?
Let me spell it out for you: N-O. No.
This is not the world we desire to live in, friends. Those who struggle are real people with these amazing, unique personalities who also happen to struggle with stuff. Because newsflash—everyone has stuff. Your stuff may simply be that you hate your job, that your relationship is failing, that your health is poor, that your home is damaged, but you have stuff. You are not defined by that bad job or floundering relationship or poor health or four damaged walls. For this very reason, we cannot define our loved ones who struggle with mental health issues by their mental health issues.
And I’ll tell you this, too. It is not enough to simply say we support these people wholeheartedly, and we want to end stigma. We must live it in our daily lives.
If we are only supporting those with mental health struggles outside our inner circles, we are part of the problem. If we do take these people into our inner circles, but we cannot accept those we love who struggle with these mental health issues as people who can actually contribute positively to our lives—if we still keep them at arms length in the important moments/things—we are part of the problem.
In those situations, we are fostering an environment that creates stigma. We are saying, “This person has too much damage or mental baggage to come all the way in and perhaps make some kind of positive difference in my life.” We are essentially saying that these people are good enough…but only to a point.
Don’t. Be. Part. Of. The. Problem.
Let’s not foster an environment ripe for stigma. Let’s embrace these people, these friends and family, as people who live these awesomely different lives and also happen to struggle with one or several mental health issues as well.
Instead, let’s say to ourselves, “My friend is an activist, a mother, an artist, and also happens to struggle with depression.”
Instead, let’s say to ourselves, “My mother is a teacher, a Christian, a book lover, and also happens to be bipolar.”
Instead, let’s say to ourselves, “My daughter is a writer, a student, a member of the LGBT community, and also happens to be a suicide attempt survivor.”
If you are someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, mental disorders, eating disorders, OCD, etc. say to yourself: “I am not my damage. I am not my mental baggage. I am not my past. I am not my current struggles. I am me, and the rest is details.”
If you are a friend or family member of someone who struggles with depression, anxiety, self-harm, suicidal tendencies, mental disorders, eating disorders, OCD, etc. say to yourself: “My friend is amazing, unique, loved by me. They have struggles that do not define who they are. I will not generalize and label them—I will simply love them for every part of their beautiful soul.”
We all play a crucial role in either the creation or destruction of stigma. Which role will you play?