Confronting Stigma

Tessa Burns MartinAnxiety, Depression, Psychotherapy, StressLeave a Comment

 

A few years ago, I experienced severe depression that impacted my perspective on how I view mental illness. After struggling for a long period of time with both personal and work-related stresses, I utilized my company’s short-term leave program on my doctor’s recommendation. During the first half of my leave, I couldn’t leave my home during work hours. I felt ashamed that someone from work might see me and think I was lying about needing time off. I felt lonely, isolated, and almost worse than when I originally left work.

A few weeks into my leave my psychologist challenged these isolating behaviors and told me it was no one’s business why I was off work. Indeed, going to the gym, socializing with others, and getting out of the house were things that would help me get better! I realized I had bought into the stigma that mental health was somehow not as important as physical health. I had believed, because others couldn’t see it, my condition was less valid. The stigma and the shame I felt were making my health issues worse.

As a society we have made great strides to change the stigma around mental illness, but we still struggle to recognize mental health concerns the same way we recognize physical health concerns. We continue to use the qualifier of “mental” when we discuss these concerns, instead of talking about these concerns as health issues in their own right. This stigma can create a loss of compassion not only for others, but also ourselves.

When I was younger, while I recognized the value in mental health professionals, I felt that I could deal with my issues on my own. It took  vulnerability and bravery for me to reach out to my first psychologist. I was nervous, felt uncomfortable talking about my issues, and worried about being judged for not dealing with my issues on my own.
However, I received immense support and never felt judged for asking for help. When we are unwell we may not know what medicine we need or what type of sickness we might have. Asking for help from a doctor for a physical pain can feel less stigmatized, and we should view psychological pain in the same way.

Think of it this way:
If you had a persistent neck ache you might talk to your friends or do research online. You might change your behavior (like how you lift heavy objects) or you might change your environment (like arranging your desk so it is more ergonomic). You might take a muscle relaxant to see if it affects how your neck feels. But when your own research and strategies don’t get rid of the pain – you would probably talk to a healthcare professional, like your doctor.
Try to think of your mental health in the same way. There are some issues that you might be able to discuss with friends or solve with some self-education. You might be able to change your environment or your behaviors with great results. However, if those strategies don’t work – talking to a professional is the next step towards a solution.

I was extremely lucky to have a work program that supported sick leave, and I was privileged to have a psychologist and doctor who didn’t perpetuate the stigma that was holding me back. Not everyone has these privileges, and access to mental health professionals is a barrier many individuals may face.
One of the core values at Serenity Now Wellness is to provide safety and support to our clients. The Serenity Now Wellness Foundation may be a good option if you have financial concerns. You can find out more about the Serenity Now Wellness Foundation here: http://serenitynowwellness.ca/serenity-now-foundation-calgary/

Written by Kate Emery 

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