How Stigma and Stereotypes affect Mental Illness

The pain stigma creates is a major factor in my illness.

The stigma associated with having mental health issues compounds the issue, adding an unnecessary layer of difficulty to overcome.

One of the most difficult barriers I face is the stigma surrounding mental illness, within myself and reflected by those around me. From the looks people give me, and their reaction to my depression, to the way I think about myself, it’s clear that stigma only makes things worse.

With other health issues I wouldn’t have hesitated to seek medical care, but when my mental health deteriorated in 2009 I was too stigmatized to ask for help. I kept my thoughts and emotions hidden from friends and family.

When I started to become more severely depressed I was overwhelmed with internal stigma. I didn’t want to be depressed. I didn’t want to have to speak to a counsellor. I didn’t want to have all these negative thoughts. I didn’t want to hate myself. I had no idea what it would actually be like to live and cope with a mental illness and was completely afraid of my future. I thought my life had gone wrong and that I was the sole reason and person to blame.

Today, stigma still interferes with my life. I hesitate to share my experiences because I know how little most people know about mental illness. Some people will think I am weak, that I am sad because I’m lazy or I choose to be. But mental illness isn’t a choice. I’ve always put as much energy and effort into getting better as I can.

In the past much of what I said and did was constrained by the stigma I felt as someone with a mental illness. It was a serious impediment to my recovery. I wouldn’t mention the subject to friends and when I went to see my doctor or psychiatrist, I made excuses as to why I was busy. When I attended a support group at my university, I’d say I had some work to do on campus. More often though, I wouldn’t say anything or would change the topic away from me. But it’s hard to cope with an illness I have to hide. It would be so much easier if I could have mentioned things when they came up. If I didn’t still worry about being defined by depression. Instead, I have to regularly remind myself that just because I have a mental illness, doesn’t mean that I am different from everyone else.

Mental illnesses aren’t something to be afraid of. They’re illnesses like any other and we should not let stigma stand in the way of anyone’s recovery. The decisions I regret the most aren’t the ones I made the day I attempted to take my life, they’re all the decisions I made in the months and years prior when I was too embarrassed, afraid or unaware of the importance of getting help.