Counteracting Mental Health Stigma
by Raechel Pierce | May 2021
You’re considering seeking therapy for the first time, but a part of you may wonder what that means, or what others may think of you. Most of us have heard throughout our lives from family members that mental health is something that we don’t address; or we shouldn’t talk about our problems with outsiders. Even more commonly, mental health issues go unacknowledged and we’re left wondering if what we’re experiencing emotionally is valid. This stigma can leave us feeling isolated within our own networks that in most cases, support us.
As you’re navigating what steps to take for your mental well-being, the following are important steps to counteract stigma:
Acknowledge your emotions are valid. It is easy to dismiss our feelings when we may not have had the support early in our lives to recognize the importance our emotions serve us. We might have been told to “get over it” or “others have it worse”. Remembering that no other individuals’ problem is greater or less than ours is important to keep in mind as each of our experiences are valid.
Seek help when it’s needed. Contrary to what you may have been told, seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It also does not indicate that there is something “wrong” with you as an individual. Think about the many ways in which we receive support in our day to day lives—mental well-being is just another area where extra support can be useful. Connecting with a mental health professional can help us better identify our struggles and reduce barriers that can help restore peace in our lives.
Don’t allow stigma to create self-doubt or blame. Stigma is not just something that we have to be aware of in others, but also within ourselves. If you find it difficult to accept that you may benefit from seeking therapy or worry about how others will perceive you, check in with yourself. Self-judgement and shame can keep us stuck in our emotional rut, but educating ourselves and others can be empowering steps towards self-acceptance.
Don’t be afraid to reach out to those closest to you. Not knowing how loved ones will react to you when you’re experiencing “off” days can be scary. We fear being rejected or judged, but our friends and family can’t support us if they don’t know what we’re going through. Allowing others to be there for us rather than shutting down can not only be healing, but also builds trust and support within our relationships.
Separate your identity from your mental health issues. Who you are is not defined by your current struggles or diagnosis. You may be experiencing depression, or feeling anxious on a regular basis, but those symptoms are not definitive to who you are. Look at treatment as addressing the issue, not you. Take time to explore other aspects of what brings you joy, and take notice of your strengths.