Regardless of what people say there is a stigma associated with mental health issues. No, scratch that, there is a stigma associated with talking about mental health issues. Nope, nope, nope, still not right. There is a stigma with admitting you have any mental health issues. It’s okay to admit mental health problems are an issue. Talking about mental health issues is okay. But never admit to having mental health problems. Nope, never under any circumstances admit you have mental health problems. That’s the message given to those of us who suffer mental health problems.
I moved to Southern California to be closer to family while I struggle with my depression. (See, Why I Moved to Southern California for more). However, my interactions with my family have shown me how ingrained the stigma of mental health issues can be. While many of my family struggle with mental health or addiction issues, the stigma of mental health issues reaches far into my family.
During my last major bout with mental illness (2013 – 2015) I lived halfway across the country in Kansas. My family isn’t familiar with my mental health issues or what to look for. They do know I ended up in the state mental hospital for a long while; other than that, they don’t know how my issues affect me. They also don’t know what to look for, how they can help, or things like that. To some degree, I too am guilty of perpetuating the stigma of mental health issues. Not sharing with my family about what I was going through helps perpetuate the stigma.
Whatever You do, Don’t Tell…
After arriving at my parent’s place, I was having dinner with my mother and we were discussing my issues and plans. It was a how long are you going to be crashing on an inflatable mattress at my place talk, but it did open my eyes to a few issues.
“Whatever you do, don’t tell (insert name here) that you suffer from mental health problems or they’ll use it against me,” was the takeaway from that dinner.
I’m not to share with family about my mental health issues because of how it would affect my mother? This part of the conversation shocked me. It woke me up to how bad the stigma of mental health issues can be. It shocked me because my mother was more worried about how my mental health issues would make her look. Welcome to California where appearance is more important than substance.
Never Admit You Hear Voices
The above might not have shocked so much me if it hadn’t come on the heels of a conversation with my sister. My sister had a small get-together so I could meet her roommates. During the conversation, I somehow mentioned I hear voices and see things that aren’t there. Hello, psychosis is part of my depression, so hearing and seeing things is part of the package.
“OMG, never admit you hear voices, not to anyone,” my sister interjected at the top of her lungs. While I said it in a normal voice and only those in the room could hear, now the entire apartment building new.
I’m an open person and don’t have problems talking about things in my life. While my openness about my life doesn’t bother me, it seems to bother others. The way I see it, the more people around me know about my mental health issues, the more they can help me. Unless they know I can get psychotic, they won’t know what to look for.
This incident helped highlight the stigma of mental health issues. When combined, the two incidents shout ‘don’t talk about your mental health issues, it makes us look bad’. Not that it makes me look bad, but how it makes those around me look.
How can we fight the stigma of mental health issues when it is so ingrained in every aspect of our lives?