Friday, March 29, 2019

How talking can end stigma and save lives

Stigma; Noun
a mark of disgrace associated with a particular circumstance, quality, or person.

I have been struggling with mental health issues for many years. I have experienced anxiety and major depression. I didn't really feel seriously depressed until I was a teenager. I had tremendous amounts of anxiety and pain and I hid it behind an over the top personality, winning me "class clown," "most talkative" and even "most bubbly." When really I was dealing with an eating disorder which, self-harm and depression. I hid the scars, I hid the suicidal ideation because I was afraid of what people would think if they knew I had a mental health issue. I had wonderful, supportive parents who I was able to confide in but I tried to hide the issues from the outside world. 

Mental Health Issues are far more common than most of us think!

One in five American adults experienced a mental health issue. 
One in 10 young people experienced a period of major depression.

If one in every five people have experienced a mental health issue why are we not talking about it more? Stigma makes people ashamed, and when people feel shame they are much less likely to talk about what's going on in their lives. Shame keeps people sick. Shame keeps people in toxic places. 

TALKING helps people....

When Zuka died one of the first people I called was another bereaved mother. Why? Because she understood. Frequently I would message her and tell her how I was feeling and ask her for validation if what I was feeling was normal. If she told me it was normal, I would believe her because she understood like no one else. by the way, she always told me it was normal and I hadn't gone completely out of my mind. That kept me going, helped me tell myself, I am not ok but that's ok, I am ok in my not-ok. She and her family have been a huge help to us in dealing with the loss of our son. They are willing to listen and willing to share their experience.

I received help from domestic violence advocacy when I was with the children's biological father. I was lost, I was ashamed and I was scared. Volunteers had been trained to help give advice and comfort. I appreciate all of them but do you know who I really listened to? The couple of advocates who told me, "I'm not really supposed to be talking about my personal life, but I have been there, this is my experience...." I was encouraged by their stories. They got through it, so could I.  When I went back to that violent relationship, one advocate told me, "You can always come back, I left 7 times before I left for good." This alone made me feel like I was not disappointing them, she understood. When I packed my bags and left for the final time I didn't hesitate to call and ask them to come to pick me up, I was done for good.

See, you don't have to be a professional to help someone. Using your own story helps to break down the stigma that keeps people in toxic places! 

If you are feeling unsafe please tell someone you trust or call a helpline (you can find several on the resources page)

If you have experienced mental health issues, talk about it. Help end the stigma. Not everyone is willing or able to put it out there publicly in a speech, a blog post, or on social media. What about reaching out to one person? Ask someone if they are okay, tell someone who is experiencing what you have experienced, "I have been there too!" 

Maybe you haven't been where they are but you can reach out and offer to be a safe place to talk. By safe place I mean, you listen. You don't have to say the right words,  saying nothing but "I am here to listen." is enough. Train yourself on how to be a better support by reading about the best ways to support a hurting friend.

The more we talk, the more we share this experience of being human, the fewer walls are built between us. The less stigma we have. The less we are alone.

Check your own beliefs and stigmas about mental health by clicking the link below! 

For More information on Mental Health Stigma please visit:

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