Mental illness has always been a taboo subject for the majority of people, and even today there is unfortunately still a lot of unwarranted stigma attached to it. Many people do not understand mental health issues simply because they cannot see physical symptoms, or a clear way to ‘cure’ them. For those without anxiety, it is easy to believe that simply stopping ‘worrying’ about something is the easy answer, just as those with no experience of depression may think that just ‘cheering up’ is the obvious solution. For those suffering from anxiety or panic disorders, it can understandably make coping even harder when worrying about the thoughts and reactions of other people, and this can lead to further problems. Here we look at effective ways to cope with and overcome the stigma of mental illness.
Put yourself first
Above all, you need to remember that you come first. Before you can worry about anybody else, you need to take care of you. Many people put off getting help for their mental health issues for years because they’re scared or embarrassed about admitting to a problem. This fear only leads to things getting worse until possibly, they’re out of hand. Don’t be scared to seek professional help; a counsellor will provide you with a safe environment to talk about your illness and help you overcome it. They will also be able to give you advice on how to deal with the people in your life, and support you in talking to those around you.
Don’t take things personally
A lot of the stigma surrounding mental illness stems from ignorance, and one of the best way to overcome this is to educate people. If somebody says something offensive or rude, the chances are that the majority of time, they didn’t realise their error. Instead of taking it to heart and jumping to the defence, try instead to gently let them know that what they said was incorrect or insensitive, and tell them what you know. Most people will apologise for their mistake, and be open to hear your viewpoint. However, make sure not to get into an argument with somebody who deliberately says hurtful things. If somebody refuses to accept that they are wrong, simply walk away and know that their opinion doesn’t need to affect you.
Be mindful of who you spend time with
It is important for your mental health, as well as your happiness in general, that you spend time with positive, open minded people who are respectful and kind. Though it can sometimes be difficult in settings such as work or school, try to spend as little time as possible with negative, close-minded, or offensive people who only bring you down. When you cut loose the people bringing you down, you unsurprisingly find your mood lifts and you find it easier to handle difficult times.
Don’t isolate yourself
It can be tempting, when you’re going through a particularly hard time, to isolate yourself, because you are worried about the reactions of others. However, keeping yourself locked away can actually make things worse. If you’re going through a rough patch or struggling to deal with your illness, it is important to reach out and ask for help. That could be a trusted family or friend, or you could go to a support group; a doctor or counsellor should be able to give you information on a local group. It is important to remember that you are not alone, and that there are many other people who are going through the same thing; talking to others who know what you’re dealing with can be a great help.
Tell your side of the story
As we’ve already mentioned, a large part of stigma comes from lack of knowledge. Why not challenge this lack of knowledge by telling your story, and educating people. Speak to your friends and family, advise your colleagues, or you could even set up a blog or join a forum. Speaking up and telling people what you know and how you feel can help those around you understand your illness better, and will make it easier for them to relate and support you.