This blog originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Katherine Spicer – an Occupational Therapy student at Queen’s University.
You may be aware of the impact of societal stigma around mental health on your life. For instance, maybe you find yourself minimizing your mental health concerns to avoid the label of “mental illness” and all that comes with it.
Maybe you worry about disclosing your mental health concerns to the important people in your life. Or maybe, like 40% of people with anxiety or depression, societal stigma prevents you from reaching out to get the help that would benefit you. The truth is, stigma may also be impacting you in ways you are not able to explicitly identify.
While public stigma refers to the negative stereotypes and prejudices held by society, self-stigma occurs when those beliefs are internalized.
Self-stigma is not your fault. It is the result of societal beliefs, and these beliefs are what needs to be addressed. That being said, it is important to recognize these beliefs within yourself and to be able to counteract the effects they may be having on your life. Here are some ways to help move you from social avoidance and secrecy to feeling comfortable with talking about your mental health.
1. Take some time to learn about mental health and understand your beliefs
Examining your awareness of stigma, and the extent to which you have agreed with it, is a great place to start countering the effects of self-stigma. Understanding your core beliefs about mental health and the behaviours these produce, can help you to create change. Ask yourself:
- What does society believe about people struggling with their mental health?
- What do I believe about people struggling with their mental health?
- How are these beliefs aligned?
- How are these beliefs impacting the way I interact with others?
Once these questions have been answered, you may wish to conduct some research related to your own mental health concerns, if you haven’t already. This will help you to learn more about yourself and about these beliefs, which are not always based in fact.
2. Notice the way you talk to yourself about mental health
Sometimes, self-stigma presents itself in our self-talk. For instance, this could sound like: “I have ADHD, so I must be stupid.” When you notice these thoughts pop up, try to actively acknowledge and challenge them.
Try to reframe and gain perspective: “Most people don’t think that people with ADHD are stupid, and just because I am struggling to stay on a task right now does not mean that I am stupid.” Advocating for yourself starts with you.
3. Find support!
Start by reaching out to people in your life that you trust and know you can depend on. Let them know what you’re dealing with and try to identify a few ways they may be able to support you.
You might also consider joining a peer support group. People with similar life experience may be able to offer you solutions that fit with your life and will be able to offer a listening ear.
Whoever with, finding your port in the storm can help you feel more comfortable with discussing your mental health concerns and ultimately to reduce the impact of stigma on your life.
4. Speak out!
Once you start feeling more comfortable with discussing mental health concerns, you might feel empowered to speak out against stigma.
At a personal level, this could look like monitoring and adjusting your own language. The way you speak about mental health becomes the way people around you speak about mental health, and vice versa.
Speaking out against stigma also means placing the same value on mental health as we do physical. The most powerful thing you can do to combat self-stigma, and even societal stigma, is to speak openly about mental health issues and about your experience.
5. Reach out to a professional for help
You never need to deal with any of this alone. Seeking support of qualified mental health professionals can support your mental health by helping you to identify your strengths, setting goals, offering strategies related to coping and living with mental illness.