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 ashleyjamespryce@gmail.com

Working together, and being vocal, we can shatter the stigma.

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About shatteringthestigma

An open blog taking submissions from skeptics and skeptic friendly individuals on the subject of mental health.

Posted on January 11, 2012, in Depression and tagged , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 9 Comments.

  1. Manic Sleep Teacher

    It’s interesting you quote ‘Fight Club’ as, what is the first rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. The second rule of Fight Club is: You do not talk about Fight Club. We don’t talk about mental health and, whilst it’s great that celebrities talk about their own mental ill health, that brings its own problems. I have manic depression. It would be lovely if a week in Thailand would put my life on the straight and narrow like CZJ or Gail Porter. Their real life is far from our reality. A producer is unlikely to be put off from using Stephen Fry. I’ve worked hard to convince employers that I won’t bear my bum in Woolies window and that I bring extra things to the table because of my illness not despite it. We need both to be supported but also celebrated for our potentially diverse contribution to the workforce.

    • Absolutely. I’ve met and know a lot of people with mental health issues that are incredibly productive. In fact some get a lot of their drive from their condition at times. A good friend of mine is bi-polar and when he is on an “up” he’s ridiculously productive and been responsible for some very important events and organised a lot of work online. Even when he’s down the spark is still there. We can add a lot to a diverse workforce.

  2. So many things you have written I can relate to. Like you say there is such a stigma attached to mental illness, and there shouldn’t be. After all it is an illness just the same as diabetes is an illness. There are many different ways to try and overcome these feelings, different things working for different people. I always find though in moments of very deep depression you are usually too depressed to try anything that may help, as you cannot see a point to it or anything else. Then you sink further down and the further down you go, the less inclined you are to help yourself. What you have written although sad, is so beautifully written, and an expression of your true anguish. Having read many of your articles I can say in all honesty, you have a gift for writing. I believe also that alot of therapy can be gained through writing. Being able to honestly put your feelings down on paper. Getting honest feedback is good also and can be beneficial in knowing that you are not alone, even though you feel that way. Someone is always out there to hold out their hand to you and share a moment, offer support, encourage, listen, and help when they can. I hope that knowing that you have so many people who care about you, may lift your spirits and bring some ray of sunshine into your day. Many Blessings, Leonie xx

  3. You have also omitted from this blog Adult ADD which art from being a mental condition on its own also has comorbid symptoms of depression, anxiety, paranoia and suicidal thoughts and yet has very little recognition or support in this country. And thousands of mainly male sufferers go undiagnosed or helped in this country and tend to lean towards substance abuse to help them through rather than seeking medical advice as they are unaware that they are suffering a condition at all and is usually ignored or misdiagnosed as behavioural issues.

    • Hi Kay

      I apologise if I missed things, sadly I couldn’t go into detail of all conditions as “Mental Health” is such a wide ranging term it would be impossible to do it full justice in this first article.

      We have had various submissions already on different mental health issues and are always looking for people who are willing to write a piece for us. If you would like to write something on Adult ADD we would be happy to run it and very keen to include articles on mental health issues if they aren’t getting enough attention.

      You can email us at ashleyjamespryce@gmail.com

  4. You mention how productive people with mental illness can be but it’s also true that it can be very difficult at times to be even minimally productive. This carries all sorts of implications for the employee as well as the employer.

    I’m fortunate to have a job where I was able to tell them I could only work 3 days/week when I was in a particularly difficult period (although I was vague about my “health issues”). I only recently started working 4 days/week and it’s not been easy. At this point, working 5 days/week again is a long-term goal, career planning is non-existent, and prospects for earning more money are slim. All of which don’t help mental-health-wise. And all this is happening with medication and weekly therapy sessions so it’s not a case of not using available tools. Sometimes the best we can manage falls far short of what we could otherwise achieve.

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