It is a sad truth that there is a huge amount of stigma surrounding mental health issues. Stigma that leads to more suffering than necessary; delays in seeking help, self-blame, isolation, harmful coping mechanisms, addiction, substance abuse, suicide.
I looked up the definition of stigma and was shocked to read the following descriptions: “a mark of disgrace”, “a badge of shame”.
Is that really how people perceive mental ill health? Stress in the workplace, physical health difficulties, trauma, bereavement, abuse, bullying; there are many situations that might trigger an episode of acute stress, anxiety, depression or PTSD.
(I do not have enough knowledge of other mental health problems to accurately comment on them)
Is it a “mark of disgrace” to be affected long-term by a sudden bereavement? Where depression could realistically be termed an exaggerated grief response. Or “a badge of shame” to develop PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) following a life threatening experience? PTSD being an exaggerated anxiety disorder.
I am in no way dismissing regular levels of grief or anxiety, both of which can have a profound impact on daily life. Nor am I minimising depression or PTSD (I have both) by terming them an exaggerated response. I am merely talking about how mental health problems can be triggered, or exacerbated, by life events, by stressful situations, put simply… by the stuff that life throws at us day after day after day. Relentlessly.
So, where’s the stigma? The disgrace? The shame?
Mental health problems can be influenced by a wide range of factors: genetics, family history, experiences within the womb, neglect in early childhood, life experiences, there can be biological or social determinants (nature vs. nurture). Each of us has different levels of resilience; the ability to cope with adversity, to bounce back. Each of us lives a unique life; we interpret situations based on our knowledge and experiences, our reactions determined by what we have already lived through. There is no blame to be attached. No stigma, disgrace or shame.
How do we determine whether our mental health is normal? Or abnormal? Or if we are in fact a delightfully unique mix of both, that we are simply ‘abnormally normal’.