Yes, Mental Health Stigma Exists

I am all about speaking openly about mental illness and mental health. I love doing it. I do it constantly. I practice it in person and on my blog and in my social media. Aw yes, mental illness talk.

So when I saw an article yesterday entitled “Talking About Your Mental Health Isn’t Brave” I couldn’t help myself. I had to click. Sometimes I’m a masochist. It wasn’t quite what I expected. The thrust of the article is that it should be totally normal to talk about your mental health. Great! Awesome!

But underlying that was a secondary thrust that suggested there is no stigma about talking openly about your mental health because the writer has never experienced it, and so the REAL stigma comes from people saying it’s brave. That logic pretzel there guys, it is a doozy.

It’s one thing to say that you think talking about mental health should be normal and that you don’t want to be called brave for doing it because you don’t want to draw attention to it. It’s another thing to deny that discrimination and stigma exist when thousands of other people have anecdotal evidence and there is evidence from psychological studies and surveys suggesting that it’s very real.

When people can still be fired for their mental health, when physical health problems are routinely ignored if someone has a mental health diagnosis, when shooters and violent criminals are labeled “crazy” without any evidence, when misinformation abounds, it is simply irresponsible to suggest that stigma doesn’t exist because you personally haven’t experienced it.

It might not seem like a big deal, but for an already vulnerable group of people who don’t think they can trust their emotions, being told again that their experiences of prejudice and discrimination don’t exist can have lasting consequences (along the lines of gaslighting). It also signals to others who might have discriminatory attitudes that they can just keep doing what they’re doing because nothing is wrong. And worst, it suggests to those who have experienced stigma and discrimination when they come out about their mental illness that they really shouldn’t say anything because if they did it right then nothing would have gone wrong.

It’s great to tell the stories of being open. It’s great to let people know that there is the possibility of a good reception. When I’ve been open with my friends and family and even coworkers, they’ve been understanding and sympathetic. But in no world do I imagine that means that everyone will have this kind of experience, and if I did then I’d need a serious refresher on “not being the center of the universe”.

So no dude, it isn’t boring or normal to talk about your mental health. For lots of people it is brave. Get over it.

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