3 Reasons I Won't Hide My Mental Illness
The first person I opened up to about living with a mental illness was a close friend. I was scared of what she would think, and ashamed I had a mental illness at all. I was surprised when she listened to me and told me I had nothing to be ashamed of, and she wanted to learn more about my mental illness. Since then, I talk about my mental illness like a “Game of Thrones” fan talks about the latest episode, and I share my story for three reasons.
1. To empower.
What first encouraged me to share my story was reading the stories of other’s and their experience with mental illness. Reading about their struggles and triumphs gave me strength and courage to share mine as well. I want to give other sufferers that feeling. I want to encourage them not to hide their mental illness, but to talk about it without shame and without fear of what other people may think. I share my story to inspire those who have previously been silent about their mental illness in hopes they won’t hide it anymore. Keeping mental illness hidden isn’t only harmful to those suffering, but is harmful for those who don’t or won’t understand mental illness.
2. To educate.
I believe the best way to educate someone about mental illness is to share my personal account and experience. I share my story to educate others about the causes, symptoms and treatment options so that they will finally understand, and finally stop stigmatizing, those who suffer. I talk about my mental illness with people who don’t understand so that they see me as a person; a person with feelings, and a person who is not her illness. I can’t expect those who don’t understand mental illness to finally get it if I don’t talk about it. If I let the subject remain taboo, the stigmatizing, the name calling and the unfair labels will continue. People gravely misunderstand mental illness, and that’s where the stigma comes from.
3. To end the stigma.
Sharing my story was the first step in doing my part to end the stigma that surrounds mental illness. Stigma is the prejudice of a group of people who are different, and stigma is wrong. Stigma suggests people with mental illness are weak, when really we are strong because we fight every day. Stigma says people with mental illnesses are crazy or weird, when in reality, we are just like everybody else. Stigma tells lies to those who don’t understand mental illness, and prevents sufferers from seeking help because they fear what other people might say or think. In order to fight stigma, I can’t be silent. I have to share my story, and make people see that I am not my illness. I am not deserving of the names or labels put on me, and I am worthy of respect.
Sharing my story with my friend gave me courage to share it with those who don’t know anything about mental illness, and I’ve done so without fear or shame. My hope is that if I continue to share my story, other sufferers will see that it is OK to have a mental illness, and it is OK to talk about it. Because if we hide it, stigma will continue to run rampant from the mouths of the ignorant, because they have no way to understand what we go through. We can’t remain silent, because it is so important to encourage and educate others, and our ultimate goal is to end the stigma of mental illness. Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of, and needs to be talked about as often as the weather. The more we talk about it, the more people will understand it and the less they will stigmatize.
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