A third story in this series on stigma is about Megan, a college student. Megan’s story interested me because she, like me came from an immigrant family who has different views on mental health than Americans. When she tried to talk to her friends and family about her depression, they told her it was all in her head. She was told she needed to get over it and that she was being over-dramatic in order to get attention. She described her depression as a dark cloud that took over all of her and got worse due to her family and friends not understanding it.
Mental health stigma can come from so many places in our society. Stigma can come from news media that are unsure how to talk about mental illness. It can come from our own friends and family who do not know what those of us with mental health issues are going through because they have never experienced it themselves. It can come from our church congregation who is unsure how to deal with such an illness. It can also come from co-workers or employers who question how someone with mental illness can fit in the work place or if their productivity will go down due the employee’s mental issues.
How do I, one person, break down the barriers of stigma?I have come to realize that to break down the stigma of my depression I cannot keep it a secret. I talk about my mental health issues openly. If you are not keeping your mental status a secret, it will no longer be something people are trying to figure out. Talk about what your condition does to you. After several years of explaining my depression and panic attacks to my mom, she finally has begun to understand that I am not crazy but that my body works differently than hers or others. My supervisor and I made a plan so I could see my therapist every week and still carry my portion of the work. I remember being told that if I were myself people would love me. I have learned that there was truth in this childhood phrase. There will always be those that do not understand mental illness but if you surround yourself with those who are willing to learn about your struggles, life becomes better and a little easier.