Ignorant and unsympathetic opinions about mental illness are retreating in the face of public information campaigns. High profile people have bravely shared their stories about depression. Language is changing. Even though many people are still too casual about using words like ‘insane’ and ‘crazy’, you will usually hear people speak more respectfully. In old movies and TV shows you used to see terrible portrayals of people with mental illness, making them out to be villains or objects for humour. You don’t see that any more, though Hollywood still isn’t good at realistically portraying mental unwellness.
As a culture, things are getting better but it is still far from perfect. Some employers can be very sympathetic about an employee who needs time off because they have the ‘flu or a broken leg, but they have not yet learnt to deal with their workers’ mental health problems in the same enlightened way.
If you have a mental health disorder, the reality is that society’s attitudes may not be improving fast enough to spare you from experiencing embarrassment and discrimination. I wish that were not so. May be if this article is really old when you read it, I hope you can laugh and say, “Wow! It was tough back in 2019!” but, in this present time, it really can be tough.
What can you do to limit the stigma from hurting you?
1. Know that you are okay.
Sure: our brains function differently at times, but we are still people of worth. If others can’t see that, they are mistaken. The important thing is that we don’t make the same mistake.
2. Have some phrases ready.
We may need to educate people around us. There are ways to describe our mental health problems that will help people understand us better. “At times I struggle with my moods.” “I do have times when I get very low. Be patient: I’ll be getting better.”
3. Not everyone has to know.
Just like any other health issue, our mental health is a private matter. Of course, sometimes our mood or behaviour does impact others and they may deserve an explanation but, in general, we can be as discrete as we want to be.
4. Realize we are not that different.
One in four New Zealanders experience some mental health issue.
5. We have rights.
We are protected from discrimination by all sorts of laws, as well as by the rules of common decency. If you are ever treated unfairly, your support person or health professional can help you because ‘right is on your side’.
6. Have courage.
It is amazing how acting with confidence can help us feel better. And I know: it is an act! It can be so scary wondering what people think about us. There is no way to know, and little we can do about it, so the best strategy is pull out our courage and charge on with a smile.