Why “Stigma” And “Shame” Need To Take A Hike
Let’s get this out of the way, first.
There’s an angry backlash in our society about how ‘mental illness’ is perceived.
Mental illness, as the argument goes, carries with it a nasty stigma. We’re all increasingly concerned about this.
The argument goes something like this:
“Should a person be ‘ashamed’ to see a doctor after slicing a tomato and severing a finger?”
“Should your friend, recently diagnosed with diabetes, be ‘afraid’ to accept insulin treatment, worried that her peers will think she’s a ‘lesser person” because of her diagnosis?
“Should a person with cancer be treated differently in the workplace?
Why, then (the argument continues) should a person suffering with anxiety or depression, a genuine illness and medical problem like any other, face shame and stigma?
I get the argument. I just don’t know what it serves. The continued focus on ‘shame’ just exacerbates the very stigma we’re trying to erase.
People who suffer must take a stand about mental illness. As they do with other illnesses. Many prominent people are beginning to speak out. I admire them. They are making a difference.
But some of us privately suffering are still deeply ashamed of what we’re suffering from. Therefore we don’t further our own cause.
The stigma is ours to change. We who suffer have to be the spokespeople for depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses in their various forms, talk about them, open up the dialogue. We understand the illness, we live it, only we can change how it’s perceived.
Let me be clear. Not all of us can shout from the rooftops about anxiety and depression. We’re not well enough, or strong enough, or we don’t want to. But some of us can. And more of us must.
Even the label ‘mental illness” is harmful. It means nothing. It also implies too much…are those affected uniformly “loony,” “nutcases,” “freaks?” Of course not. The label has to go.
Here’s a different take on the stigma and shame debate: stress and stress overload are part of being human, part of being alive, part of being a member of this rushed, frantic, chaotic, competitive society we’re in.
When stress “overtakes,” as it can for many, it can morph into something more serious.
No one is immune from stress; no one is immune from the way it can evolve into a ‘mental health’ problem.
This is not about “us” and “them” - those who suffer from stress, those who don’t. Stress affects everyone. For some of us, it catapults out of control.
So what’s the ‘stigma’ really about then – being human? Are we ashamed to be human? I’m not. Are you?
Good, that’s out of the way. Let’s move on….