The first story about mental health stigma is from a woman I’ll call Cheryl, a mother of six children, a devout member of her church, who has been married for fifteen years. When I met Cheryl, I was fascinated by how vocal she was about her depression and what she does to make it better. She’s a member of a church that openly talks about mental health issues and how there should be no stigma for those in her church who suffer mental health issues. Yet, Cheryl says her experience was not one of being stigma free. She talks about being ignored by other members in her congregation and not being asked to participate in church activities because of her depression. She related to me how stigma she felt made her depression worse. By speaking out about her experiences, she advocates for herself and others. She feels that speaking out directly makes her depression better.
Our second story is about Dave a single father of four, who suffered from chronic depression since high school. When I asked him if he had ever suffered stigma due to his illness he immediately replied he had been lucky to never have suffered any stigma. He does not remember ever being told negative things about having a mental illness. He also related throughout his career he has been very careful about what he tells his supervisors about his illness and his constant doctors’ visits. Why has he been so careful? A previous manager eventually fired Dave after he explained his frequent doctor’s visits were due to treat his mental illness. I would argue that Dave has suffered stigma, although he hasn’t endured the bad metaphors of mental illness that I’ve heard throughout my life.
Both Cheryl and Dave give us examples of stigma in its various forms. The next blog will give another variation and share some thoughts on breaking down stigma.