Stigma in Relationships

Fighting mental health stigma can be scary, especially knowing things will change once you stop being silent and start speaking out. The scariness might be because you live with a mental illness, so you'll be opening up to vulnerability. Or it could be because you'll be clashing head-on with stigma's titan-like reputation. Sometimes you're not even sure exactly how things will be different. So what changes when you begin fighting mental health stigma?
While there are many people in the world who continue to stigmatize mental health, sometimes the most trying situations come from dealing with the people in our immediate lives who continue to spread stigma. There are a number of ways to handle people who approach mental health from a perspective of stigma, but here are 2 easy ways that you can deal with the people in your life.
It may seem odd to say that mental health stigma might actually be self-care, but hear me out. When we're struggling and someone pulls away, it can feel very much like mental health stigma. We might think that person doesn't understand or is being unfair. But what if that person is simply practising self-care?
Sometimes there is no way to avoid feeling like a burden because of your mental illness. Whether it is for emotional, physical, or financial reasons, the reality of mental health problems can be difficult to bear for both those who suffer from mental illness and those who consider themselves caretakers of those who struggle. For people who have a mental illness, feeling like a burden comes with a tremendous amount of self-stigma that is reinforced by the silent stigma of those who must bear the weight of the “burden” that mental illness causes.
Some people aren’t sure where to start when they want to talk about mental health or illness with a loved one. Knowing how to talk about mental illness is important, but broaching the subject can be difficult for all parties involved. Whether you’re on the mental illness or mental wellness side of the equation, stress over the talk can lead to not having the conversation at all or going about it all the wrong way. Is there a good way to talk about mental health?
In the first part of this three-part blog, I wrote about what stigma can look like for children and how it affects them, as well as your first step as a parent or guardian to a child in this situation, which is to make sure you are not inadvertently stigmatizing your child. In this part, let’s take a look at ways you can help your child or children understand the mental illness, stigma, and self-stigma.
When I was a child dealing with mental health stigma, I didn't really know what it was that set me apart. As a young adult, I have a better perspective on the mental health stigma your child faces. Although I’m not a parent or guardian of a child facing mental health stigma, I have a clear memory of how stigma affected me as a child. Plus, I've seen what my parents have gone through as I lived with mental illness at a young age. I also read posts and hear from parents and guardians who have children that suffer or live with mental health problems and it's heartbreaking to witness as they grapple with trying to help their child and feeling powerless to do so. So when I can, I try to help. I hope some of the tips that follow are ones you find helpful as you navigate your child’s mental illness and the potential mental health stigma your child can face.
Coping with a breakup after telling someone you love, whether it be a friend, family member, or romantic partner, that you have a mental illness is never easy. The scariest time is right before I tell anyone about my mental illnesses. It is always thoughts like “What if they think less of me?”, “What if they suddenly don’t want to be around me anymore?”, “They're going to see me as a burden.” that make me anxious. You could probably name many other anxious thoughts and I could say I thought them, too. Ultimately, these fears of a breakup are based on mental health stigma, and coping with a breakup due to mental health stigma may be the most heartbreaking of all.
Part of the romanticism of mental illnesses is that someone who is mentally ill can be cured by love or that someone can be a cure for someone else's mental illness. We see this in media and it seeps into real life to the point that people don’t understand why we can’t stop being depressed or anxious for them (How to Cope With a Loved One's Mental Illness). What people need to realize is although being loved can make dealing with mental illness easier, love does not cure mental illness.
It is often difficult to know when to tell new friends about our mental illness, or even one that a family member suffers due to mental health stigma. Many people who face stigma are judged by others, especially when making new friends, but it can still be important to be honest about your mental illness and reveal it as soon as you are comfortable.