Shattering the Stigma by Ash Pryce
Mental Health issues still are surrounded by stigma. I can guarantee we all know at least one person who suffers from them. Even if they don’t know it themselves. That’s how common mental health issues are. Various reports suggest it is as common as 1 in 4 to as much as 1 in 3 suffering from some sort of mental health issues at some point in their life.
They can range from mild anxiety to bipolar disorder to schizophrenia. And regardless of the type there is still a stigma attached to them. In recent years more people have been outspoken about their illnesses. It is helpful when celebrities such as Carrie Fisher, or Stephen Fry come out and admit their illness, but it is still looked down upon.
It can be seen as the fault of the sufferer. Others may assume that there must have been some awful trauma, and others still may think depression doesn’t exist. In fact it is the last one which can be quite upsetting and offensive- not that we have the right to not be offended of course.
Take a read of this Yahoo question and it’s top answer.
Question: “I suffer from depression, my fiance insists it does not exist and I should just decide to feel better??
I am trying to beat serious depression and life stress. My fiance insists depression is na imaginary disease, also says it is a choice. He also calls me things like “cuckoo-brain” and “Dopey *****.” Any opinions?
The answer is quite saddening and all too common:
“If you want to feel bad, nobody’s going to stop you.
Do you want a fiance, or an enabler?
Get over yourself. People deal with stress, fear and frustration every day. You’re not the only one. It’s all part of dealing with life. Quit using it as an excuse.
You can do this…Good Luck.”
They are right, the questioner is not alone. But they are so very wrong in other aspects- “get over yourself” is an all too common statement from people who have no idea what depression is. Depression is as real as a cold or cancer. It is as physical as any illness you might get throughout your life, the difference being it affects the brain and usually has no outward indicators physically.
Depression also isn’t just about feeling sad or down. There are many things that can accompany it. I’ll get on to talking about my own issues with it in the next article.
Depression also isn’t a small simple illness. Depression is the same as cancer in that they are single words used to describe a variety of sometimes quite different illnesses. In fact depression is only a part of my mental health issues. Anxiety can affect those with depression, it can also affect people as a stand alone condition.
You might be agoraphobic but not depressed. You might be bi-polar but not have issues with anxiety. You might be “mildly” depressed yet find it impossible to leave the flat. Some people feel completely worthless, others feel fine in many regards but might find social interaction challenging and feel uncomfortable out of their safety zones.
You may have panic or anxiety attacks. You may or may not cry constantly and for no reason. You may develop paranoia. You may think everyone hates you.
Mental health is still stigmatised in a way many other illnesses aren’t, yet it isn’t contagious, it doesn’t kill (though some suggest in may shorten your life), people with mental health aren’t likely to be more violent. Yet many are not only afraid and embarrassed to admit they might have mental health issues, but others in society can be judgemental.
Many employers (As much as 80% based on some surveys) are unwilling to hire people with a history of mental health issues believing them to be unreliable or in some cases dangerous.
Attacking people by calling them on potential mental health issues seems a commonly acceptable thing to do- recently a US Presidential hopeful was called “nuts” and attacked as having some sort of mental health issues (they probably don’t) and this was seen by most as an acceptable insult.
Prominent bloggers in the sceptical community have been chastised for using mental health issues as fodder- notably in the case of “David Mabus”
Another factor is the ease at which people use words like “Depression” and “Anxiety” as interchangeable for “feeling a bit sad” or “Nervous about the job interview”. Being a bit sad is not being depressed, being nervous about a job interview is not the same as having anxiety. Though you can be depressed and sad, and certainly those with anxiety are likely to feel nervous about job interviews. But we as a society bandy these words around without taking time to understand what they mean. “I can’t go out to the club because I’m skint, I’m so depressed” is not the same as “I find it difficult to go out due to suffering from depression”.
So what is the purpose of this blog? Well, it is my small and humble hope to tackle some of the stigma. I know a lot of sceptically minded and skeptic friendly people who have suffered, or know people who suffer from various mental health issues.
The way to remove the stigma is to make our stories heard and to show people we are normal, regular members of society. We hold down jobs, we cook your meals, we valet your car, do not fuck with us…. Sorry, that’s Fight Club. But the point stands. We are normal members of society.
I understand some people may use mental health issues against some people and that some may not wish to contribute here. Although it would be great if you used your real name, at the moment getting stories out there and showing people that mental health is not something to stigmatise is important. As such if you wish to contribute your story I am happy to publish anonymously.
What I ask is for people to write their stories. To tell us how they are, how they deal with it, how others look down on them, how people are affected. There are lots of blogs out there individually dealing with this, but nothing where skeptics and atheists can come to and read stories of many of their peers, and people they look up to.
The first step to de-stigmatising this, is to talk about it. If you wish to make a submission please email it to firstname.lastname@example.org
Working together, and being vocal, we can shatter the stigma.