Please note that this is an Archived article and may contain content that is out of date. The use of she/her/hers pronouns in some articles is not intended to be exclusionary. Eating disorders can affect people of all genders, ages, races, religions, ethnicities, sexual orientations, body shapes, and weights.

By Nikki Rollo, PhD, LMFT

Since 1990, the first full week of October has been dedicated to raising awareness and reducing the stigma and shame associated with having a mental health condition. The theme for 2018 is Cure Stigma. The National Alliance on Mental Illness tells us that 1 in 5 Americans is affected by mental health conditions. People struggling with a mental illness so often face isolation, rejection, bullying and discrimination. They are subject to shame-inducing and silencing experiences.

We become afraid to say we are anxious or depressed (or more directly that we are suffering from anxiety and depression) and instead perhaps say we don’t feel good, or are too busy to attend a social event. We feel shame about speaking out and asking for help with our emotional pain. Stigma keeps us silent, isolated, and makes asking for help difficult and scary. The thing with stigma is that it can come from someone else (feeling judged) or it can come from ourselves (self-judgment). We often internalize messages and beliefs about what is acceptable and what parts of us “should” be rejected.

Think about the term “mental illness” for a minute. Notice what images, thoughts, judgments or beliefs come up for you. Perhaps stigma has limited your own attempts to seek help or impacted your relationship with someone else who was suffering.

A few questions to contemplate about how stigma may be impacting your life:

  • Have you been treated differently due to a mental condition?
  • Have you ever considered just “toughing it out” so no one has to know you were struggling?
  • Have you delayed asking for help for fear of judgment?
  • Have you ever treated someone else differently due to a mental illness?

Consider the ways in which the questions above have touched your life. NAMI’s campaign is a reminder that stigma is everywhere, it is contagious, and requires us to take strong action against it.

When reading the below campaign manifesto, reflect on both your attitude toward others and your attitude toward your own mental health:

Cure Stigma Manifesto 

There’s a virus spreading across America. It harms the 1 in 5 Americans affected by mental health conditions. It shames them into silence. It prevents them from seeking help. And in some cases, it takes lives. What virus are we talking about? It’s stigma. Stigma against people with mental health conditions. But there’s good news. Stigma is 100% curable. Compassion, empathy and understanding are the antidote. Your voice can spread the cure. Join NAMI, the National Alliance on Mental Illness. Together we can #CureStigma. 

Stigma isn’t just about how we think and feel about someone else with a mental illness. It can be how we think and feel about ourselves. Stigmas has an impact on the actions we take to get the help we need. Often times we find it easier to have compassion and understanding toward others, while we treat ourselves with unrelenting self-criticism. Take a moment to check in on your own compassion and understanding toward others and yourself. How are you doing?

Most of the time, the answer is that we could use a lot more loving kindness toward ourselves. We could use a lot more understanding for the challenges we face in life. We could use a lot more self-compassion for our suffering.

Today, what is one thing you can do toward curing stigma? Today, what is one self-compassionate act you can take toward yourself? The perception of mental illness can change, if we all work together to change it.

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