Monday, July 17, 2017

Stop the Stigma

I haven't been great about posting in here, and sometime I think it's because I fear that I should "be over it" or that I am not deserving of the emotions that I experience. If I've learned anything in the last 6 years, it's that most of our society is anything but sympathetic to those who suffer chronically with their mental health.

But checking in, and sharing is part of the reason I decided to start this blog in the first place. For all the things that we tell ourselves we have to keep hidden, the tears that are withheld, in fear of the judgement that may be placed upon us by others. The shame attached to anyone suffering from one of the many forms of mental heath issues keep us quiet, and I for one am sick of it.

While it may seem simple to say "don't let it get to you" or "just get over it", there is often something much deeper hidden behind our tears and bad days. It wasn't until I started documenting my highs and lows after my Father's suicide, that I really started to find the hidden release in not holding back. But I struggled for years with not allowing myself to really feel what I needed to feel. Why? Fear of judgement, fear of abandonment, stigma. So much stigma.

I worried that everyone would label me as crazy. What's worse, is the people that did.

Why is there an age limit to being able to cry openly when hurt? Why is it that a 2 year old child can throw themselves on the ground and cry over spilled milk, but an adult cannot cry and grieve openly without it making people uncomfortable. When did we decide that our feelings had an expiration date?

We are quick to run to a crying child, to offer aide, and to smother them in affection in hopes of limiting their pain. But we don't offer the same to someone grieving the loss of a loved one, or someone who is battling depression and deals with sadness almost daily.

If we offered the same kindness to everyone, regardless of age or reason, imagine the impact. Imagine the souls that could be mended and the tears that could be avoided. While I may personally have no issue with discussing my struggles, the shame surrounding mental illness prevents so many from talking with friends, family and health providers honestly about their struggles. It limits the ability to teach and enforce prevention when those inflicted are weary of even talking to anyone.

We don't want to be treated differently, but we are. From the dodged conversations, the friends and family that stop calling, down to the way medical staff treat us once they read of an attempt, or hospitalization. The scarlet S for STIGMA is stitched to our chest for all to see, and no amount of treatment will erase it.

If you truly want to help, reduce stigma, and ensure that future generations can come forward with their feelings without fear of being branded, listen. Offer up your ear, and just listen. Free from judgement. Ask questions, be engaged with us. Show us that you care. Stop by with a hot meal on a bad day, send a handwritten note with a fond memory. I promise you the smallest act of kindness means the world to someone who is suffering.

If you see a stranger in a store and they look unhappy, smile and say hello. If you know an anniversary of a death is coming, shoot a text. Go donate time, board games, books or fresh flowers to your local mental health facility.

It takes very little to make an impact, an that impact can have a ripple affect that can and will save lives.