Incidents such as this remind me of just how strong the stigma about mental illness is in the minds of many people—both for those of us who know we have it and those who think they don’t.
We all know that the mental illness stigma is a big obstacle to people getting treatment. I've been thinking recently about how it also prevents many from being more effective mental health advocates. If we fear that others are going to judge us negatively if we reveal that we live with mental illness, then we are not going to tell anyone but our closest family members and friends with whom we feel very secure—if we share it with anyone at all.
These thoughts led me to ponder on how I got over most all of the stigma and shame I felt within myself when I was younger. And I felt it a lot! This was likely reinforced by my well-meaning parents who were trying to protect me when I was release from a psychiatric ward when I was eighteen after experiencing major depressive episodes. Perhaps they were protecting themselves a bit also. When visitors came to our home, my parents asked me to go to another room and remain unseen so the visitors would assume I was still away at college. My parents didn’t want questions. They told me not to go to church—really surprising as we never missed on Sundays even when away on vacations.
These feelings carried through my writing a book manuscript about my mental health journey. I wrote it with all names of people and places changed. I had dreamed up a scheme of getting it published incognito. When I finally got the courage to share my writing with a few family members and close friends, a couple of them strongly encouraged me to put my own name of it. They said I had an extremely important message to share, but that without a real author behind the book, it wouldn't sell. I acquiesced. I like to think that my altruistic side won-out over my stigma insecurities. The feedback I've received about how it has helped individuals has been gratifying, and I've become a full-fledged, full-time mental health advocate. This has been most satisfying for me. But first before I could this, I had to overcome the feelings of stigma and shame within myself.