The 2 sides to stigma

Updated: Apr 22, 2020



A mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person

The word stigma and Mental Health go hand and hand, for so many years long before I was born and even before my parents were born there has been such a stigma attached to Mental Health. People didn’t talk about it and people lived in shame because of it, afraid, alone, acting and dying inside. The sad part is they have no reason to feel this way at all. Negative emotion is felt by all of us and negative emotions control people who struggle with Mental Health, Depression, Anxiety and so on.

How did it happen that people stopped talking openly about their feelings, their emotions? Or did they ever? Why is it that so many of us just feel that we have to hold this inside and not talk? These negative emotions, bad feelings we think about over and over and let them grow inside of us and control us and destroy us hold us back and stop us from growing into the people we were met to be.

What makes these negative emotions and feelings so strong? Why do we feel we have to hold on to them for so long when they cause us so much pain? The stigma behind Depression and Mental Health is so strong because of the way we were taught to view it, and keep it a secret and not be open and shine a light on it and take its power away.

Although now a day’s things are starting to change and people are starting to talk and I am one of those people. I have to tell you I will not stop talking because the more I talk the more people I reach and then those people start to talk and sooner or later we will all feel free to open up and talk. I dream of the day that we are completely open about these so-called taboo issues, it motivates me to do my part and break this stigma that has been placed on Mental Health.

What I have learned is there are 2 parts to stigma, that is what makes it so powerful. There are the people who are struggling and the people on the out side who don’t under stand what is happening in their loved one’s life, their friend’s life and people who struggle in general.

When I do talks for Niagara Region Mental Health during a presenting called wellbeing 101. A question is asked, “What is stigma” the room goes silent. People are terrified of talking, they know the word because it is all over the media, saying that we need to break it. But the truth is that people really don’t know what it is. Stigma is so powerful that even talking about it is scary, even saying that you don’t know what it means is scary, never mind learning about it.

I sat and watch for 3 years, I took note of what I saw at each talk. My goal was to learn about it from the people we were talking with and gain a deep understanding for more myself so I could help people, in a natural way and what I came up with was mind blowing.

I discovered that people on the out side had the same feelings as the people who were struggling. So I decided to look at it from both perspectives and discovered something very eye opening. To understand stigma and how it works you have to change your way of thinking and realize that there are common emotions on both sides. Seeing this really changed me because I had to let go of all my judgements, hang ups, fears and beliefs and see what was going on. I found that there were so many common emotions and reactions shared. When it came to Mental Health and stigma.

The common emotions are fear, shame, guilt to just name a few, I have picked these because they are the most powerful. The reactions are isolation, withdraw, self hate, guilt, a feeling of being alone, low self esteem, emptiness, helplessness.

The physical reactions are loss of sleep, lack of personal hygiene, exhaustion, crying, a decline in physical health. So, how is it that both the person who is struggling and the people on the outside are sharing the same effects from stigma as it relates to Mental Health? I will explain, I will break it down into 2 sections. The person struggling and the person on the outside. I have chosen Fear, shame and guilt as examples. There are more but these 3 in my mind are the most common and powerful.


In the person who is struggling

When you are struggling you are afraid! Afraid of many things. The out side world because you may have been hurt and suffered a trauma, you may have never learned to deal with or heal this trauma, so you are afraid that it will happen again.

You are also afraid that the world will now judge you, treat you differently, you are afraid that you may lose your job, your friends, never have relation ships with other people, be looked at in a different way.

Your fear your friends and family will also treat you differently because of your mental state. You are afraid to come forward and speak your mind because you don’t want to scare people or expose your self.

You chose to not get help because you do not want anyone knowing you are the way you are. You have fear of the unknow and fear of talking and coming forward even when it comes to people who can help you.

You fear failure, that you will not be able to change or use any of the therapy that will be given to you.


In the person on the out side

The people on the outside are afraid to talk because they don’t want to make things worse.

They fear that if they say something wrong that it will trigger the other person who is struggling.

Fear will cause people to have negative views and judgements. These judgements will be completely wrong and have no base in reality, but they will influence their interactions with people who are struggling.

They will use that person’s Mental Health as an excuse for their behaviour because they are afraid themselves.

They will often allow their loved one to withdraw because they feel it is okay they are under their roof and as long as they have an eye on them then they will be okay because they are in control.

They will also live in fear of doing anything that will make things worse, walking on egg shells and not being open and talking.


In the person struggling

The person who is struggling feels great shame. They see themselves as less then others, they have a tag on them and they now have to live with it.

This means that they start thinking bad things about themselves and believe it. Their self esteem crashes and they feel a total disconnect from the out side world.

They see their past as building blocks to their future, because of the failures and their short comings they are less then everyone else.

They carry shame; they carry their Mental Health Struggle with them and feel that it stops them from moving forward. They are this way and it will never change.

To their family they feel they are a burden, they feel shame, they withdraw and stop communicating with them and the outside world. They will become angry, stop caring for themselves.

They will hesitate to reach out for help. They will feel hopeless and see nothing but failure in their lives.


In the person on the outside