Is The “Stigma and Shame” Mental Health Argument Flawed?


Stigma and shame….Go Home!

But first, hear me out. There is irony and futility in the stigma/shame argument.

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, or any other genuine illnesses and medical problems – like any other – face stigma and shame?

I understand this argument. I have to live with this argument. I use this argument.

But what does this argument achieve? The continued focus on the word ‘shame’ merely exacerbates the stigma we’d like to see erased.

People who suffer with mental illness have to take a stand. Many prominent people are beginning to speak out their own mental health experiences. They are making a difference.

But. Those who suffer privately still experience the feeling of ‘shame.’. Therefore, they can’t further their own cause. Or get the help they need. 

The stigma is ours to change. We who suffer from mental health issues have to be the spokespeople for depression, anxiety and stress-related illnesses, talk about them, open up the dialogue.

We understand the issues. We live them, I live them – only we can properly explain them, alter how they are perceived, how they are dealt with.

Who else?

Let me be clear. Not all of us can talk about our experiences with 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.

The label ‘mental illness” alone is harmful. It means nothing. It also implies too much…that those affected are “loony,” “nut cases,”  “freaks” in their brains. It’s a broad brush label that doesn’t explain the complexity of the problem.

Here’s my argument for why the stigma and shame argument is flawed:

  • Stress overload is part of being human, part of being alive, part of being a member of this rushed, frantic, chaotic, competitive society we’re in. Stress overload is a given for all of us.
  • When stress “overtakes,” as it can for anyone, at any time, it can and often will morph into a minor, or serious, mental health problem. Especially if the person is ‘predisposed.’ Know anyone who isn’t?
  • Individuals with family histories of mental health issues exist are very likely to be affected. Know any family that has not experienced any mental health difficulties ?

In other words: No one is immune from stress, anxiety, depression, illnesses. No one is immune from family mental health histories, no one is immune from the reality that an otherwise fully functioning individual can suddenly be overcome by a ‘mental health’ problem.

What do other illnesses have to do with this?

After all, mental illness is not a broken leg or insulin treatment.

Futhermore, this issue is not about “us” versus “them”  -  those who suffer from mental health issues, those who don’t.  Stress and its sinister cousins affect everyone, in some way, at some time. Anyone who thinks differently is in for a RUDE awakening.

OOoh, “a malfunction of the brain.” That’s where the problem begins. However, take a look at the complexity of every single brain on this planet, right here.

Everyone has a brain, therefore; everyone has the capacity to suffer from mental health problems.

I guess we’re all in this together, then, aren’t we?

We are all vulnerable. 

We all have brains that can misfire. The stress of life affects the proper function of the brain.  No one is immune.

Except, apparently people who love to shame those with mental health issues.

They are the ignoramuses that forget one, essential thing: they have brains, and theirs are vulnerable too.



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This entry was posted on Wednesday, July 25th, 2012 at 6:00 am and is filed under Posts. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed.


  1. March 8th, 2013 | Andrea Coulter (@WholiHealthCare) says:

    Great clear article Abby! You are so right that serious anxieties and depression needs to be looked at in a whole different perspective if we are going to help teach people how to hopefully prevent, if not overcome.

    Keep up the great work!


  2. April 9th, 2013 | abby says:

    Thank you Andrea. And thank you for all your wonderful work in the healing realm.

  3. June 7th, 2013 | Alice says:

    I’ll just sum it up to say I’m thoroughly enjoying your blog.

    I am an aspiring blog writer, but I’m still new to everything. Do you have any suggestions for first-time blog writers?

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