Challenging the Stigma of Mental Health

The stigma that surrounds Mental Health Illnesses hangs in the air like a bad smell.

Fear of being ostracised by peers, colleagues and society in general is what drives so many sufferers underground, to keep their illnesses hidden away like it is a dirty little secret. The shame and embarrassment attached to having a mental health illness brings with it further complications for those who suffer in silence.

It is hard for people dealing with having an illness without the problems that comes from having to pretend everything is OK on a daily basis, but is there a realistic alternative out there?

The time has hardly come for me to walk down the street with “I have depression” plastered across my T-shirt and yet I live in hope that having depression will not mean the end of how I live my life. There is no fear of becoming an outcast because I am bigger than depression, I suffer with depression but it does not define me as a person.

When I started this blog I had to decide if I wanted to write anonymously or as myself, forget the moose alter ego because it is not something I hide behind to cover my identity.  I made the decision to reveal as much about me as possible because I wanted to be known as a “normal” person who suffers and for others to see that there was someone in the same situation as them. In particular I wanted to be known as a man who has depression, to be an example to other men that it is OK to speak about depression and how it makes me feel.

I am secure in myself enough to happily let people know that I was so low I wanted to kill myself, that it is not a sign of weakness that I have sat around in tears sobbing uncontrollably at my situation. I have opened myself up to ridicule, negativity and anything else hidden in Pandora’s Box in the name of breaking down some walls to help challenge the stigma of mental health.

It was important to me that I was open and honest from the start, and it is still important now. I want people to see my posts on the good days and the days when I feel low because it shows how up and down the life of a depression sufferer really is. To only post when I am in a good mood would never do justice to the real me and my feelings and I ensure that there is a balance of good days and bad when I post. Naturally it doesn’t always turn out that way but that is the intention.

Sharing my feelings and, more importantly, generating discussion on depression is my way of fighting back against the stigma. Receiving messages from strangers who reach out to me shows that there is a need for people like me who are able to express what others are feeling but are unable to say.

Don’t get me wrong I am not appointing myself as the commander of the stigma fighting army,  I am after all just one person in a community of many other bloggers who feel strongly enough to write about their illnesses, who share their own battles and all for the same cause.

The problem is that there are so many obstacles in the way, in my journey and in changing peoples view of mental health.

There are lots of celebrities out there who are using their fame to speak about mental health illnesses, Stephen Fry and Ruby Wax are particularly vocal, but I am always dubious of celebrities and their real intentions. Self promotion is a wonderful trait that exists in the celebrity world and there always seems to be a book release, a new show or something else that will earn money just around the corner when the stories of mental health are released. Or maybe that’s just the cynic in me talking.

I guess anyone famous who generates headlines talking about mental health is better than no one talking about it!

And yet there are still many hurdles that having depression will need to be overcome.

I have been out of work now for 2 years. Put yourself in the shoes of someone interview me for a job, looking down at my CV and seeing a gap of 2 years since my last job.

The first question you’re going to ask me is likely to be “why have you been out of work for so long?”

My response would be “I have been battling depression and it made me unable to work”

What is going to happen? Short of the words “NEXT!!!!” being screamed out it is likely that there will be no job offer and that is down to the stigma we face.

People are reluctant to tell their bosses or HR departments about having a mental health illness because they worry about the reaction, that they will end up being forced out of their jobs because of having told the truth and this is something that makes me feel unemployable. I would have to be honest about my depression because otherwise I would be given tasks that I would be unable to handle, that the stress of them would make me ill but by being honest I would not get the job in the first place.

I know of lots of people who have not yet “come out the closet”, a phrase borrowed from HelloSailor, and revealed their illnesses to people at work and I completely understand why they haven’t done so. But what a shame in this day and age that we are still in this situation.

So how can we tackle the stigma?

By talking about it and getting the world to stand up and take notice that the number of people with mental health illnesses is increasing all the time and that only by putting this issue more and more into the public domain are we going to be able to improve the knowledge of others.

As is usually the case until people are educated on subjects their perception of them are driven by a fear of the unknown.  Together we can show that just because someone has a mental health illness it does not mean that we are going to go on a rampage fueled by medication and drugs, that actually we are more alike than you would think.

The difference between those who judge me and I is that I had the strength to acknowledge my problems and tackle them head on, you are still hiding them in the belief that they are not there!

It will take a lot of time and lot of effort, from better people than myself, before the stigma of mental health illnesses is addressed and consigned to the past, but the sooner it happens the better for me and many other people.

All I can do in my tiny corner of the internet is to continue to do my part and spread the word. A reminder to you all that I have published a book while battling depression so if I can accomplish this then anything is possible if we allow ourselves to at least try!