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The Mass Media

2-26-24 PDF
February 26, 2024
An inside look at Bobby B. Beacon’s insides. Illustrated by Bianca Oppedisano/ Mass Media Staff.
Bobby's Inside Story
February 26, 2024

Leave Your Stigma at the Door Part I

There exists many layers of stigma surrounding mental health conditions as well as self-harm and suicide. In this article I would like to explore what stigma is, debunk a few misconceptions, highlight a few truths, and open up this article to a make-shift series because, as always, I find I have too much to say on this topic.
First, I found a good article by Samantha Gluck from The Healthy Place that defines stigma as “a mark of disgrace or reproach and the negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of a whole person.” Stigma is high among those of us living with a mental health condition. I, for one, do not like using the term “mental illness” because I feel stigma is highly attached to it, like a ball on a chain, and instead, I prefer the phrase “mental health condition.” In my earlier days of article writing I would use the phrase “mental health issues,” and I changed it eventually due to my own personal preference.
Stigma is like this invisible force field that strikes those who suffer with a mental health condition, their family, their peers, and society as a whole. Stigma is rooted in language and how people may treat you differently once they hear that you struggle with a mental health condition. Stigma is oftentimes hand-in-hand with discrimination. It’s like this icky, dark shadow that whispers evil words in your ear, even though you’re already in the shadows of actual mental health conditions, but you’re trying your hardest to just stay afloat.
Stigma causes many people to deny their troubles with their mental health, to think the condition is “their fault” (or their parent’s fault), and overall paints a picture that those of us living with mental health conditions are inherently “violent,” “destructive,” or “defective” to those around us. Stigma prevents people from reaching out for help. It’s an ugly force that blames problematic behaviors on being “attention-seeking” or “a cry for help.” It is the reason some people don’t tell their families that they’re struggling, don’t tell their workplace that they struggle, and that incites further shame and self-blame about struggling in the first place. Self-stigma comes in the form of thinking we are “bad” or “wrong;” that we aren’t really struggling “that bad;” that we don’t “deserve” help or recovery or fair treatment.
Stigma is a liar. Stigma is as deceitful as the mental health condition a person may be struggling with—it is lying to you, telling you things that you fear may be true and couldn’t be further from the truth.
What is the truth? Well, one in five adult Americans will live with a mental health condition in their lifetime. The National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) states on their website that “having a mental health condition does not make a person more likely to be violent or dangerous. The truth is, living with a mental health condition makes you more likely to be a *victim* of violence, four times the rate of the general public.”
To other misconceptions relevant to this article, NAMI states that “a mental illness does not make someone any less of a person. They are not broken or odd; they just have different experiences that not everyone has to face.”
“Everyone can help those living with mental illness by speaking and acting in a way that preserves personal dignity. If you are a part of removing mental illness stigma in our society, you are helping everyone affected by a condition. Use person-first language. This means that a person is not their illness; an example would be saying ‘she lives with depression’ not ‘she is depressed.’ Do not use offensive slang. A person with a mental health condition is not ‘crazy,’ ‘psycho,’ ‘insane,’ or ‘loony.’ When you use these words, you are implying again that a person is solely their illness,” according to NAMI.
NAMI also declares that “like any other disease, there are periods of time where a person is particularly unwell and may need a short hospital stay, but very few stay longer than a week or two. Many people with mental health conditions live productive, happy and healthy lives.”
There is an article I wish to write, likely under a different title, all about NAMI—their mission as a non-profit organization, their modes of advocacy, how you or others can get involved, and so on.
Stigma is an ongoing conversation that we all deserve to speak out against. Your voice is, and will always be, worth sharing. In part II of this series, I will discuss my own personal experiences facing stigma.