Big awareness-raising campaigns are all well and good, but are hashtags like #endthestigma putting too much pressure on those with mental illness?
The battle to end the stigma around mental illness is one we have been fighting for a while, and it seems to have gained greater traction over the past year or so. Combined efforts from charities and from influencers – like vloggers and celebrities – mean society is almost forced to confront and fight the stigma of something that many of us have to deal with.
Of course, this is a positive thing. Only good can come from raising awareness; it brings understanding and, ultimately, tolerance. There are campaigns out there that tackling stigma with incredible force. They are movements we should all be proud to partake in.
That said, I can’t help but notice the onus of who should be supporting these campaigns sits almost entirely on us – the sick and suffering.
Let’s talk about the #EndTheStigma campaign
A well-meaning campaign set up to offer an outlet for suffers and to raise awareness of the mental illness stigmas. This campaign was designed to be an opportunity to show the world that everyone – even people you wouldn’t expect – can suffer with a mental illness.
The premise of the campaign is confessional:
It’s along the lines of “Hello, my name is … and I have …”.
Now, before I carry on, I want to state that in no way do I have an axe to grind with this particular campaign. It is doing a great job in supporting and helping sufferers, it is simply an example.
As a sufferer of mental illnesses myself I can’t help but feel the pressure that ending the stigma is putting on people with mental illness. A pressure has grown that could make you feel as though you have to “confess” your illness, as if it is a sin.
And that is just part of the problem
The confessional aspect of reading about a celebrity’s battle, or the personal declaration that can be found scattered across the internet only seems to cheapen the issue. I have been suffering with depression, anxiety disorder and PTSD for over 10 years now, and when I was speaking to someone I knew – on a one to one basis – about the length of my illness their response was; “oh, so before it was cool then”.
Before. It. Was. Cool.
That was when the fear set in for me. Suddenly, in that moment, I realised that for all the good that the influencers and campaign were doing raising the awareness of the stigma it was being undone by its sudden rise to fame.
And that’s when the pressure began.
I found myself questioning whether I should be writing a confessional post on my blog, or on social media. You know, to raise awareness.
I thought of a friend I have on Facebook who I knew from school and who is open and very vocal about her struggles. In order to raise awareness. I thought about how much she is doing to help, and how little I was doing. And then, as is usually the case with an anxiety sufferer, I started to panic. A prolonged, fitful panic which spanned weeks: I wasn’t doing enough. My efforts weren’t enough. I wasn’t enough. I am not enough.
As a long term sufferer I found myself assuming a self-inflicted “duty”. A “duty” I am obliged to fulfil because I am experienced in the art of dancing with mental illness. It was as though I felt like the only doctor on a plane when a fellow passenger was having a heart attack.
And then I realised the trap I had fallen into
It feels like there is a huge onus on sufferers to be the leading line in raising the awareness. We are the forbearers of our war-cry. It’s only right that we lead from the front, right? Wrong.
Like I mentioned before, I have been suffering with mental illness for over 10 years. If I were to do one of those graphics it would say “I have depression”, “I have anxiety disorder” and “I have PTSD”. For 10 long years only a handful of people have known. It took me a year to tell my husband when we first got together. For no other reason than because it is mine. I see it like having another invisible illness. Something like diabetes, for example; I don’t walk around telling everyone that I have a mental illness, just as you wouldn’t expect a person with diabetes to do the same. You only have to tell people when it is necessary.
Society needs to get better at accepting mental illness; there are no two ways about it. But we don’t all have to shout from the rooftops. We can become silent advocates who gently encourage more research or learning about the subject. Who don’t laugh when that guy in the office makes a joke about mentally ill people. Or who simply is there to tell you it’s ok because they know how much you just need to hear it sometimes.
Mental illness isn’t going away, in fact I think it’s just getting started, but looking to those who suffer to be the leaders of the race to battle the stigma might just be one pressure too far.
Do you think #endthestigma saddles suffering people with too much pressure? Or do you think we should stick with it? Let us know in the comments below.
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