Surviving Mental Health Stigma During Awareness Efforts

Surviving Mental Health Stigma During Awareness Efforts

Surviving mental health stigma during awareness efforts might seem like the last thing anyone would need to do. After all, awareness efforts are designed to foster honest conversation and combat the stigma around mental health and mental illnesses. Despite the good of these efforts, however, there are still ways that people might be negatively impacted by them.

Awareness Efforts Can Invite Mental Health Stigma

There are numerous mental health and specific mental illness awareness days, weeks, and months throughout the year. Just last month, we had World Suicide Prevention Day and Month, and this month there are even more, including Mental Illness Awareness Week and Mental Health Awareness Month. They’re each wonderful at combatting mental health stigma and helping people with these disorders feel heard and seen. (« Mental Health Awareness Weeks Are Important to Combat Stigma« )

It seems like an absolute oxymoron to think awareness efforts can invite mental health stigma, but here’s something to consider.

By their nature, awareness efforts open up conversation on their given topics, and when people start talking about mental health, mental health stigma is often quick at its heels. I’ve seen countless awareness posts where people spew vitriol and pretty much spit in the face of the efforts. For those who are still feeling the sting of mental health stigma strongly, this can compound the negativity and fear. (« Stigma and Discrimination: The Effects of Stigma« )

Before I was open about my mental illnesses, there was always this worry in my mind that there was no way people couldn’t know about my struggles, and every step felt like an invite to stigma. When it came to awareness efforts, that was magnified. Every time I might have shared or even liked an awareness post, I was worried about what stigma might follow. It made me hesitant to participate.

3 Tips for Surviving Mental Health Stigma During Awareness Efforts

Knowing the increased risk I felt of being stigmatized during mental health awareness efforts, I know others feel this, too. First, I’d like to say this: it’s okay. You don’t have to jump from fearing stigma to challenging it openly. It’s okay to take time to build up to it. For those who aren’t there yet, here are ways you can survive mental health stigma during awareness days, weeks, and months.

  1. Don’t read comments on awareness posts on social media. Many organizations and people you know might share posts across their online social platforms, which opens the door for a wide range of responses. It’s best to avoid these all together so that you don’t have to worry about the stigmatizing comments you may find.
  2. Don’t participate in awareness activities if you’re not comfortable. I know awareness efforts can create this sense of obligation to participate, and that if you don’t, you’re not doing your part. I know there are people cheering on the efforts silently, and I appreciate you just as much as those shouting from the rooftops.
  3. Spend less time online. Mental health awareness efforts aren’t exclusive to the online world, but that’s where a large chunk of it takes place. If you’re feeling sensitive to the mental health stigma you might come across, it’s helpful to cut back on the time spent online and reduce the chance of digital self-harm.

These are just a few tips I thought of for surviving mental health stigma during these periods of awareness and ones I know would have helped me. The more tips we can share with each other, the better. Don’t hesitate to share yours.

Author: Laura A. Barton

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