• Mair Elliott

It's Time to Talk about stigma...

Updated: Jul 17, 2018



As a result of Time to Talk day (Thursday 4th of February 2016) I have

been thinking about Stigma. For those of us who have mental illness,

we face Stigma often, in fact I would say that people facing mental

illness face Stigma and discrimination almost everyday, but maybe we

don't realise it.

I officially fell ill when I was about 14 and a half, that was when people found out and I started getting help. But in truth I probably

fell ill at least 6 months before that. Why didn't I ask for help when

I first started to feel unwell? Why didn't anyone notice until I was

already trapped in the darkness that is mental illness?

The answer; I was terrified, not just because it felt like I was

living in a nightmare, but also because I knew that the world would

see me through the eyes of misunderstanding, misconception and, of

course, Stigma. I knew that it was very likely I would be seen in a

different light, instead of being the quiet, high achieving student, I

would become the 'psycho' or 'freak' engulfed in madness, or I would

be seen as an attention seeking, moody teenager.

Being Autistic also meant that I had spent years of my life learning to sink into the background to avoid being 'outed' as being different.

I didn't want to be put in a spot light, it was one of my worst fears. Which is what I thought would happen if I told anyone about my struggles.

The first 6 months I suffered alone. I suffered alone because the sheer enormity of fear I had of people finding out I was suffering with mental

health problems. And that is why Stigma is so dangerous. Lots of

people don't speak or seek help because of the fear of facing peoples

judgements. Particularly men and boys - being 'macho' means showing no

weakness, and I suppose feeling emotionally unwell is seen as being weak. Actually things happen, that's life, we fall ill, we get treatment, we work hard and we recover. That is as simple as it should be, but when Stigma come and stands as a road block, everything becomes harder and more complicated.

I was never aware of the Stigma until it was me under it's beady eyes. I never consciously took any particular opinions on mental illness

before falling ill, yet I still had these strong views on how I would

be treated by society when I developed mental illness myself. I was only 14 and I already had absorbed this dangerous mind set. Subconsciously I had taken in the stereotypes, the name calling, and the myths.

For me over half of the Stigma I have faced is Self-Stigma. What I mean by 'Self-Stigma' is that I took the opinions and myths and

inflicted them upon myself. I called myself a psycho, I called myself

a freak for having mental health problems. I called myself a failure for falling ill. I was already in a position in which I was vulnerable and was subjected to derogatory thoughts due to my illness. But Stigma had brainwashed me into judging myself further.

Luckily, once I told people most were the opposite of judgemental, they supported me and tried to understand. But of course Stigma showed

its ugly face from time to time. Comments like "you are a pretty,

intelligent girl with a good family, what have you got to be depressed

about?" Or "you need to smile more often". Comments that many may not

batter an eyelid to, but for someone suffering with mental illness and

low self esteem those comments can be incredibly destructive.

I had an illness, I fell ill. If I had Diabetes no one would have battered an eyelid, no one would have told me to "snap out

of it". If I had scars or marks from injecting insulin no one would

have pointed them out and told me I had a "disgusting attention

seeking habit". If I had diabetes I would be watching what I eat, and

not eating certain things, no one would call me out and say "can't you

just eat, stop trying to look for attention". I don't mean to generalise, all illnesses are difficult to deal with. But by simply putting the word 'mental' adjacent to 'illness' suddenly that person becomes someone to be scared of or someone to disapprove of.

Guess what, I have depression, anxiety, anorexia, self harm scars, and hallucinations. I'm not ashamed, and stigmatising comments don't affect

me any more. I fell ill, it was not my decision. I did not choose to

fall ill, but I did choose to recover, that is what is important. I am

probably going to have my diagnoses for the rest of my life but I am

learning to manage them, and that's all that matters to me. I know exactly how much effort and energy I put into getting better, I know the struggle and pain I went through, and I consider myself a strong person for surviving and not giving up.

Stigma can kill, Stigma causes unnecessary suffering, and Stigma can prevent recovery. Myths are myths, don't believe them. Educate yourself and

your family and friends. Look after yourself, and look after your

peers. You never know who will be affected by mental illness, it

doesn't discriminate. We are not monsters, or attention seekers, or

freaks, we are people, and we deserve to be treated the same as anyone

else.

Time to Change are a national organisation focussing on raising awareness of mental health and tackling stigma. Take a look at their website for more info on mental health, and the effects of stigma:

http://www.time-to-change.org.uk/mental-health-stigma


About Me

I am a young patient  activist, speaking openly about life with mental illness and autism. My activism includes public speaking, trying to affect change in mental health and/or autism services by contributing to relevant organisations, panels, committees and executive boards. I hope to break down misconceptions, stereotypes and stigma relating to mental illness and autism, and to create a future where mental health services are fit for purpose.

Want to hear me speak? Curious about my story? Think I could help you or your organisation to understand mental health and/or Autism?

Get in touch; Mair.elliott97@gmail.com

 

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