Overcoming the Mental Health Stigma

“The wound is the place where the light enters you.” – Rumi

The recent news of Demi Lovato’s hospitalisation, is deeply saddening. Her survival is however, hopeful, especially in the wake of the many others who tragically took their lives.

This incident is also a reminder of the reality of the millions like Demi, who struggle with mental illness, fighting battles every single day, just to stay afloat. In many cases, substance abuse or overdoses stem from an underlying mental ailment caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain. Usually it is brought on by some past trauma.

Trauma spares no one. Everyone has had to deal with trauma at some point in their lives and will probably face some trauma in the future, whether as “small” as facing exams, or the death of a loved one; or a family fleeing persecution; victims of rape, sexual assault and harassment; war veterans; domestic violence survivors, victims of crime, victims of school bullying, emotional abuse from our friends and family, whether done consciously or subconsciously; caring for a loved one with an ailment, or one who has a substance abuse problem; and the list goes on.

These traumas are of different grades, but they share one thing in common, all pain feels the same. Far too often these traumas create scars, which if untreated, combined with a lack of a support system, can lead to tragic outcomes as we see time and time again.

In many parts of the world mental illness continues to be stigmatised and not even acknowledged as a real disease. Perhaps as human beings we are unable to accept someone is in pain because they show no physical wound.

Many walk around with painted smiles, hiding their grief, struggling to appear “normal” because dare they say “depression” or “anxiety” or “mental health” it may bring shame, stigma and discrimination. Somehow, we have managed to make these words something to be associated with shame. Why?! Even in the face of glaring medical findings and evidence to show mental ailment is a real disease caused by a chemical imbalance in the brain, we are all too eager to support the loved one showing physical signs of an ailment, while isolating the one whose pain we cannot see, forcing them into silence and isolation.

Everyone faces trauma as it spares no one, but for some it is harder to cope and as such we tend to be dismissive of those who are unable to cope as well as we can. We therefore lack empathy.

As a friend or loved one to someone suffering or prone to mental ailment, we can sometimes feel helpless and hopeless because we simply do not know how to help and therefore we tend to distance ourselves from that person and most of the times, it is when they need us most.

With painted smiles and hidden pain many who suffer from some type of mental illness, trying to cope without a proper support system leads to negative health outcomes and an overall poor quality of life. This in turn can lead to substance abuse among those prone to depression and then instead of supporting them, we stigmatise them even more.

We simply cannot afford to wait till our loved ones are hospitalised or dead to offer support and thoughts and prayers. We must be there throughout. Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade, Heath Ledger, Robin Williams, all tragically gone and there are the millions who we have lost or are still fighting everyday whose names we may never know.

Yes, life will probably knock us down again and we may feel broken and even more tired but having the courage and the resilience to get back up, is the point through which you allow the light to enter. It is where your strength lies and the place from which you can draw upon your strength, to help others fighting similar battles.

To the families and friends of those who you know are prone to mental illness check in with them, even if you’re fighting your own battles. Perhaps one of the best ways to deal with a bad day is by lifting someone else up. Robert Ingersoll famously remarked, “We rise by lifting others.”

Teach your kids and yourselves to be kinder human beings. Bullying among teenagers is far too prevalent and creates long-lasting scars which harm a person’s self-worth and self-esteem and can carry through to adulthood.

Societal pressure to look a particular way to be accepted is why so many young people, especially girls and women are battling eating disorders, low self-esteem, lack of self-worth and anxiety.

We must do better as friends and family and by extension a global community in creating a more kind, supportive environment that is nurturing, inclusive and built on a foundation of love and acceptance. Thoughts and prayers to Demi Lovato on a full recovery, it may seem like the battle is lost, but never give up hope that better days are to come, and you will emerge out of this even stronger!

To survivors and those struggling no matter how dark it may seem, no matter how broken down and tired you may feel, remember pain does not last forever and this too shall pass.

Submitted by: Nesha Abiraj

Nesha Abiraj is an Attorney at Law from Trinidad and Tobago who recently graduated from Northwestern University, Chicago, IL, USA with her Masters in International Human Rights Law. Her interests are in health and human rights and she is currently preparing for a fellowship with Human Rights Watch (HRW) in New York, USA.

The Sound (1)

Next Saturday you can have your Say.

© All rights reserved. Reposted with permission. No part of this publication may be reproduced without written permission from the author.