I posted on Facebook today this: “Stigma is shame. Shame causes silence. Silence hurts everyone.” I was struck by a comment from one of my friends who said, “Stigma is the root of all suffering whose ripples expand and touch countless others…” Wow.
Her comment really struck a cord with me. I know from my experience how much stigma impacted my willingness to get help and stay with a treatment plan. Stigma caused me to internalize a tremendous amount of guilt because I had this mental illness “label.”
I don’t believe in labels, but I do believe in diagnosis. Without the correct diagnosis I was put on the wrong medications and it made my underlying condition worse. It is important to know what is going on and if it takes a “label” to help someone I am okay with that. But the fact that we even think of mental health conditions as labels means we have a problem.
I read a great deal about mental illness. I don’t read as much about mental health because I have a good understanding of what it takes to be mentally healthy. But as I researched information for an upcoming talk I am giving I found there is such a difference between what mental health advocates use to describe a mental illness. Here are some of them: mental health issue, mental health concern, brain disorder, mental health condition, and finally mental illness. All of us advocates are trying to make it okay to talk about mental illness. We are all trying to fight against the stigma. Some do it in a different language because of the great stigma attached to the words mental illness.
Here is the question I ask myself – what words make the most impact? I find myself using them all interchangeably. But I have to say there is a big difference between a mental health issue and a severe mental illness. An issue is something we can get over a severe mental illness is something that requires a life long battle. I believe if we are going to educate we have to be real and raw. Let’s get real about what we are dealing with and then let’s work to help people know it is okay to get help.
Experience is our greatest teacher. I have been on this journey with mental illness for more than 30 years. Trust me when I tell you the stigma of mental illness is dangerous and we must do everything in our power to eliminate it. Lives are at stake.