The 2 sides to stigma
Updated: Apr 22
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
People on the outside will feel shame because they do not know how to help! Their loved one is hurt and struggling.
They also feel that they will be judged as well when other people hear that their loved one is struggling.
They will also feel and react in the same way as the people who are struggling. Stop going out into the public and family events.
They feel ashamed because they can’t help or even worse, they can’t fix their son or daughter or brother or sister or friend.
They will negative self talk and believe it because they do not know what to do, they have no were to turn, will hesitate to get help because it will expose them and their secret.
They feel shame because they feel they allowed this to or made this happen.
In the person struggling
Guilt is a major factor in someone who is struggling. Guilt for having the problems they are having.
Guilt for the ways they have acted, for past events in their lives.
Guilt comes into play as they stop doing things for themselves.
Guilt finds it’s way into their lives and stops them from coming forward.
They will blame themselves for things that they can never control and will still think it is their fault, even when it has nothing to do with them at all.
They will feel guilty for things that they didn’t even do, and have no control over.
I felt guilt for being sterile, something that I could never control, but I took the blame and held the guilt till it ate me up inside.
You become so low that even when you have good and enjoyable times in your life you will start to feel guilty for having them.
In the person on the outside
Guilt will eat the person on the out side alive, they relive the past, constantly thinking what if I did this, what if I did that.
They feel guilt because they feel that they may have caused the problems that are happening.
They feel guilty because they have no way of helping and they truly want to help.
They feel guilty because they don’t understand, they have shame they have fear and have no way to stop it!
Guilt will consume and build a wall between people, end friendships, destroy families…destroy people in general, it doesn’t matter if you are struggling or not. You will even feel guilty for that.
Do you see just how power full Stigma can be in just those 3 examples I have given? Not just in the people who are struggling but with everyone involved. Now multiply this over the entire world not just in your life but in everyone’s! Then multiply this over the thousands of years that it has been here! This is the wall we need to break down! This shows that everyone needs to change and let go of stigma! How does that happen?
“Only with open conversation can we break the stigma behind depression, let’s start talking and do it together!”
Start talking openly about your emotions and how we truly feel. That does help. We are all human and we all feel emotion good, bad, ugly it is all there inside of us. Once we start talking and being aware of our emotions the stigma behind Depression and Mental Health. Stigma will have no power and no chance at surviving.
We can all do our part to help each other by being honest and open about how we feel. Break the stigma, start talking, Living life and being happy! That’s what were here for.
Stigma has many faces and the only way that we can break it is by talking, changing, educating and giving hope! Hope is a special gift and it is free! We can all give hope to each other! As you read above if we started talking and communicating with each other then we will see that we are sharing all the same feelings at the same time! We are all human and that is a great thing. Could you imagine if we all started being open, we could break the stigma, start seeing that we are all in this together! What I difference we could all make in each other’s lives!