Experiencing stigma of mental health
The other month, I was in a meeting of a social group. One member (who I shall call Katie) was told the group that they were physically unwell. The general response from the group was advising Katie to take it easy with a few people offered to help her out with her set tasks. Another member (Harriet) mentioned they suffered from anxiety. Alarming, rather than asking Harriet how they could best support her with her anxiety, a member suggested that they should put themselves in a situation where they feel anxious to help them overcome it or leave the group if they could not contribute. There was no empathy to how Harriet was feeling or how brave it was for her to reveal their anxiety. I could sense that the groups’ reaction made Harriet feel small and not surprisingly she has now left that group. A clear example of how stigma around mental health problems that Harriet was experiencing.
Fear of ridicule
This situation highlights the silent taboo and discrimination against mental health. I see a lot of clients who are signed off work with either stress or depression. The majority of them comment on the fear they feel to how their work colleagues will react to them when they return to work. They feel they will be ridiculed or no-one will understand. They even feel having mental health on their sick note will jeopardise future employment opportunities. This makes them feel isolated and ashamed.
Clearly, the stigma around mental health problems exists and why many people suffering mental illness feel a failure. I feel it takes strength to admit that you are suffering and to accept help from people. My clients are brave to admit they need counselling and even braver to walk through my door. In fact, often my clients admit that was the hardest part of the counselling process!
Those of you who have been depressed, I am sure have been in a situation where someone tells you ‘to cheer up’ or they have told you how they managed the situation or you just need to ‘get over it’. These are not helpful words or advice. You perhaps just want someone to listen and believe in you. It is often said that if your arm was broken and you had it in plaster that you would receive the appropriate support and empathy. We need to do the same for mental health.
Time to Change had a stigma to Shout survey and it showed that “almost nine out of ten people with mental health problems (87%) reported the negative impact of stigma and discrimination on their lives.” Time to Change has shown that the stigma surrounding mental illness makes it harder for people to make friends, hold down a job, and keep fit and staying healthy. This stigma isolates people (especially if they have fear that they will be misunderstood or shunned), it excludes them from every day activities such as meeting up with friends or shopping and finally it prevents them for seeking help. This high statistics is sad as well as worrying.
Importance of #TimeToTalk
That is why today #TimeToTalk Day is so important. It allows people to stand up and talk about their experience with depression to help others understand it can exist, that it could happen to them and that if you do suffer from it, you should not be ashamed. We need to support people with mental health problems rather than ignore them.
Time To Talk reports that every year 1 in 4 people suffer from mental health. This is a high figure for something that has stigma around it. You can see the importance of #TimeToTalk day to allow the stigma around mental health to be broken and for people seek the right help that is appropriate for them.