Breaking Free from the Chains of Stigma

In my previous post, I shared my experience in setting up boundaries in the context of mental health. If you are new to my blog, I write about my experiences with depression and anxiety. I have been on a long journey with poor mental health for nearly 40 years. Throughout the majority of these four decades, I battled in silence, keeping my illness hidden, with only my wife as the sole witness to the full extent of my struggles.

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In this week’s post, I will delve into a topic that is close to my heart and has deeply impacted me throughout my personal journey: overcoming the stigma surrounding mental health and advocating for awareness. This issue raises the question: why did I hide my struggles and suffer in silence? The answer lies within the pervasive and harmful force of mental health stigma, something that I, along with countless others, confront daily. Throughout this post, I will share my experiences, shed light on the broader effects of this stigma, and emphasize the urgent need for advocacy. So, let’s begin by exploring the impact of mental health stigma and the importance of raising awareness.

My Personal Experiences with Stigma

In my life, stigma has taken many forms. Off-hand comments like ‘Just get over it’, and ‘Man up,’ have plagued me my entire life. Over time, these experiences have chipped away at my psyche. On most days, I feel isolated and ashamed.

Stigma is like a brick wall. It has stood between me and the help I needed. I would ask myself, “What would people think if they knew?” So, I kept my struggles hidden. I kept smiling, kept pretending everything was fine. But inside, I was falling apart. My secret battle with depression and anxiety was exhausting, and the stigma made it lonelier.

The Broader Impact of Stigma

Ending the Stigma

Stigma fuels misconceptions about mental health. It is the reason many people hesitate to talk about their mental health struggles. We fear judgment, so we stay silent.

Stigma can also create systemic barriers in workplaces and schools. People may avoid seeking help, fearing it could ruin their job or tarnish their academic records. This leads to people not accessing the support and resources they desperately need.

In my journey, I’ve seen firsthand how destructive these societal attitudes can be. It is disheartening to see people suffer in silence because they’re afraid of being stigmatized. But understanding the broader impact of stigma is the first step to fighting it. Moreover, it is why I believe sharing our stories is so critical. This is more than just individual struggles; it is about changing the narrative around mental health.

Becoming an Advocate for Mental Health Awareness

Three years ago, I started sharing my drawings on social media. The reason? Well, to put it bluntly, I had reached a point of utter despair. My mind was clouded with suicidal thoughts; my depression and separation anxiety had pushed me toward a dark and lonely place.

However, becoming an advocate for mental health awareness did not begin after I started writing. It was when I began this blog that things truly took off. Writing here every week has been incredibly therapeutic for me, but the response from all of you has exceeded my wildest expectations. Messages poured in from people fighting similar battles. My openness about mental health seems to be making a difference for others.

Advocating for mental health awareness has given me a renewed purpose, fueling my determination to keep fighting and embracing life. This journey has shown me that my story holds significance and that my voice truly matters.

So it all began with open conversations. Each post I wrote and every story I shared felt like a weight lifting off my shoulders. Finally, I acknowledged the struggles I had kept hidden for far too long. I quickly learned that my story was important. My story needed to be told.

And you know what? So does yours.

Practical Steps for Advocacy and Stigma Reduction

The journey to mental health advocacy is a personal one. It starts from within. For me, it began with a realization that I could no longer keep my struggles a secret. But there’s more to advocacy than sharing personal stories. Here are some steps you can take to become an advocate for mental health awareness in your own life.

Education: Education is essential in all aspects of life. Educating yourself about mental health issues will help to increase your awareness. Words have meaning.

There is one who speaks rashly, like a piercing sword; but the tongue of the wise brings healing. Truthful lips endure forever, but a lying tongue, only a moment. 

- Proverbs 12:18-19 (HCSB)

Open Dialogue: Be open to talking about mental health. It’s not an easy conversation to have, but it’s a necessary one. Use respectful and empathetic language. Encourage others to share their experiences.

Support: Offer support to those who are struggling. Listen to their stories. Provide them with resources. Let them know they are not alone.

Advocate: Stand up against mental health stigma. Correct misinformation when you see it. Promote mental health awareness in your community.

Remember, advocacy is a journey, not a destination. Every step you take towards raising awareness, no matter how small, contributes to reducing stigma and promoting mental health.

For further education and involvement in mental health advocacy, I recommend exploring resources like the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), Mental Health America (MHA), and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP). They offer a wealth of information and opportunities for involvement.

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If you made it this far, please consider commenting below, subscribing, and also sharing on your social media sites. Most importantly, I ask for your prayers. I write this weekly blog as an outlet in my fight against depression. However, my hope is that something I write here may help others who may be struggling. If you would like to help with my battle against depression, check out my online Etsy store. Most proceeds are donated to the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

If you or someone you know may be contemplating suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or by dialing 988. You may also text HOME to 741741 to reach the Crisis Text Line. In emergencies, call 911, or seek care from a local hospital or mental health provider.

Scripture quotations marked HCSB are taken from the Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Used by Permission HCSB ©1999,2000,2002,2003,2009 Holman Bible Publishers. Holman Christian Standard Bible®, Holman CSB®, and HCSB® are federally registered trademarks of Holman Bible Publishers.

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