Defeat the stigma. Stronger than the stigma. End the stigma. What is all this chatter about stigma as it relates to mental health? In a nutshell, stigma is shame. In other words, people with mental health issues have been shamed. They’re shamed for something that they had no choice in, just as a person with cancer had no choice in becoming ill. What does this say about our society that shames some of its’ most vulnerable people? To me, it says that we have lost our empathy in this never-ending self-consumed world.
When we say things like “defeat the stigma” we are essentially saying “stop shaming me for something I didn’t choose!” And I think that is a reasonable request.
How do I know that stigma still exists? The look of fear in peoples’ faces when I tell them that I have bipolar. Maybe that look of fear comes from their perceptions of what I am capable of doing. Perhaps the fear is from the unknown, from their lack of education on mental health issues. Or maybe they simply don’t want to get to know me after learning I am “marked” as bipolar. I can truthfully say that the latter does not hurt my feelings. I am sad for them though because of all the amazing people they’ll miss out on knowing. All because of their stigma that they may not even realize they have.
Stigma does nothing other than separate people. Mental health stigma helps separate people into the “socially acceptable brain camp” and the “socially unacceptable brain camp.” How does that help our society? The answer: it doesn’t.
So how can you defeat the stigma? Educate yourself. Learn about the mental health illnesses. People only fear what they do not understand. Let knowledge takeover fear. When there is no fear, there is no stigma.
I am so bipolar, and unashamed.
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(A huge special thank you to three-time Olympian and New York Times Bestseller of the book “Fast Girl,” to Suzy Favor Hamilton for mailing me this amazing shirt! You are such an inspiration to me.)