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Stigma and Society's Perception of Mental Illness

What does the new year mean for mental health stigma? Many people see New Year’s Eve ticking down into the next year as a time of transformation, possibility, hope. Don’t get me wrong; a new year can certainly represent those things and be an opportunity for a refresh. But among the “new year, new insert-whatever-here” posts, I wonder where mental health stigma fits in.
Death is hard for many people to understand, and feelings about it can be extremely challenging to put into words. When it comes to death by suicide, the challenge seems to become even greater. Think of all the ways you’ve heard suicide spoken about; unfortunately, a lot of it results in stigma and ignoring pain. (Note: This post contains a content warning.)
Have you ever wondered if relatability has anything to do with mental health stigma? I haven’t until recently. Now that it’s entered my mind, I can’t help but wonder how much of a role that might play in decreasing stigma and maybe even perpetuating it.
"Surviving Mental Health Stigma Blog" — that’s the name of this blog full of tips and advice to get through moments of stigma, overcome it, and so on. Often, that’s how I approach writing for this blog: what tips can I share? What have I gone through that might be useful to others? But then it struck me. Dealing with mental health stigma can quite literally be an act of survival. It’s not hyperbole. It’s not dramatics. Mental health stigma could literally lead to someone dying. I’ll elaborate. (Note: this post contains a content warning.)
Among tinsel and twinkling lights and cheer, it’s not something people want to hear, but it’s true: the holidays negatively impact my mental health. Whereas others find cheer in the music and gift-wrapping, I find discomfort, anxiety, and darkness. The even more difficult thing is there’s really no safe, stigma-free space to talk about it.
Memes are pretty much a staple of the Internet. I’m sure even those who carefully curate their social media feeds have memes scattered about in posts from those they follow. As funny and relatable as they can be, what role do they have in stigmatizing mental health?
Canada has a new government position: Minister of Mental Health and Addictions. It's raising many conversations and many questions. However, the question I’m most interested in is what can the government, through this minister, do to stop, or at least address, mental health stigma? Can it do anything?
I wear two rings that I fidget with. One is a spinner ring designed for fidgetting; the other is a ring that's actually three interlocking rings which just happens to be good for fidgeting. I've always enjoyed wearing rings, even to the point that, in high school and early university, I wore rings on nearly every finger. Back then, it was more aesthetic-driven, but I've realized that wearing rings I can fidget with helps my anxiety.
Arguably one of the most common forms of mental health stigma is the fact that mental toughness is valued over mental wellness. Think of all the times we're told to get over mental health struggles or toughen up to get through them. This pervasive stigma doesn't necessarily deny mental struggles; it just says we need to be tougher when it comes to the challenges brought on by them.
Britney Spears' conservatorship has been a hot topic since she was able to say her piece in court on June 23. It's caused fans to rally behind her, supporting her as she struggles with being under other peoples' control for more than a decade and the impact that's had on her mental wellbeing. Perhaps ironically, it was a mental health crisis that kicked off the conservatorship, to begin with. I can't help but wonder, what has been mental health stigma's role in keeping that conservatorship in place?