May 5th is National Silence the Shame Day. Silence the shame day is an opportunity to talk about mental health and the social stigma surrounding mental health. Mental health is the state of a person mentally. It’s also a huge social stigma in many regions of the world. One in five people struggles with a mental health issue.
While it may be an invisible illness, it still significantly impacts a person’s life. It’s important to know that mental conditions are treatable and that recovery is possible. Just as other health issues are diagnosed at varying stages, so is mental illness.
It may be brought on by something traumatic such as an injury or even abuse. It may be generational in families; it may impact a woman after childbirth. Look around you for a moment; everyone that you’re looking at has the potential to have some form of mental illness.
Many people are treated for mental illness and go on to lead a healthy, happy life. They work a full or part-time job and care for their family. They drive a car and are responsible for many things just as you and I are.
Sadly, unlike other health issues, many people don’t have access to care for their mental health issues. Many suffer in silence, thinking that they are the only ones who feel this way. Many won’t speak up because of the stigma of mental illnesses that society has today.
Everyone needs some help now and again. National Silence The Shame Day offers awareness and education regarding mental health and the recovery from mental health issues.
According to Wikipedia, A social stigma happens when there is a disapproval of a group or individual based upon perceivable characteristics distinguishing them from other society members. As a result, many mental health patients will become homeless; they may lose their job and struggle with relationships or other health issues.
Merriam-Webster identifies stigma as 1. A mark or characteristic that identifies a specific sign or diagnosis. 2. A small spot or a scar.
Everyone’s been exposed to a stigma in one way, shape, or form in life. Perhaps from watching movies where specific races, mental conditions, or religions are shunned. Perhaps at the doctor when someone is in for a clinic visit and has an obvious disability. Maybe at the grocers when encountering other cultures or races. They are perhaps dealing with a family member that struggles with mental health issues.
Society has deemed that certain types of people are to be avoided. An excellent example of this might be a homeless person standing on a street corner holding a sign—the veteran who returns from a war missing a limb or confined to a wheelchair. PTSD can have a significant impact on a person. Two people may go through a similar situation, and one may struggle with PTSD while the other has no residual issues after the experience. Unless we know these people, we have no idea what happened in their lives, why they are struggling, or why they are homeless.
While not everyone responds or reacts to stigmas like mental health issues, many people feel the desire to turn the other way and not interact with them. And, who could blame them? On the other hand, it can be less stressful to avoid crossing their paths.
I spent over a year not wanting to leave my house at one point. I felt like I stuck out like a sore thumb and that everyone was staring at me. Thanks to some great websites, I worked through my depression, but I never spoke the words out loud. I never talked about it as depression. Why? Because in my family, that would be admitting I was mentally ill. It just wasn’t something my family would even consider.
I have relatives who struggle with bipolar and schizophrenia, and I’ve heard what the rest of my blood relatives say about them. I have relatives that have attempted suicide, and the family ostracized them, not wanting it to be discussed.
Mental health issues shouldn’t have such stigma attached to them. Instead, they need to be brought out into the open and discussed without shame. The more something is brought out in the open, the more it can be dealt with healthily.
There are medications and counseling that can help a person readjust to life. Many are willing to help. Don’t hide in shame. Talk to someone. Talk to your doctor or even go online and find a counseling center to talk with regarding the condition.
In our local town, our local grocery employs several persons with a disability. Although these disabled persons provide a much-needed and valued service to our local grocery, I often observe a customer (usually new to our small town) who will coil back or avoid going around them as they do their shopping. Some of these employees have a physical condition, while others appear shy or introverted due to their depression.
Though these people with disability may do their job well, I sometimes see a customer that doesn't want to be in the same aisle that these persons are in, and they whisper (way too loudly and rudely) to their children to “stay away from him or her lest you get what they have.” What are we teaching these children from a young age? Again, more stigma's in society. These children will go on to teach it to their children if we don't stop this cycle of stigmatizing others.
There’s no shame in talking about mental health. The shame is hiding mental health conditions, refusing to discuss them, and hiding family histories of mental health issues. The sooner society as a whole admits to such conditions, the sooner these conditions can be addressed, and recovery can be sought.
I, for one find that I am richly blessed by knowing persons with a disability, mental health conditions, and persons from other cultures and religions. I don't have to be best friends with them to be polite. I don't even have to know their name to lend a smile to their day. They are not contagious, and I will not “catch” whatever they may have as a medical condition if I smile and say hello or ask where a specific item is in the store.
A simple smile can change the world. If you see someone without a smile, you should give them one of yours. You never know what someone else is going through at any given time. The lady crying in the grocery store may have just lost her child or spouse to cancer, and the gentleman that looks distraught may have a mental condition.
I may not know why the homeless person is holding a sign on the street corner, but I don’t have to be rude to them. I can politely say “no.” I can visit the veterans and tell them how much I appreciate that they sacrificed for their country. Maybe if I sit and visit for a while, I will learn something new. Perhaps I’ll make a new friend. Maybe I can forget about myself for a few minutes and care about someone else.
How can you help reduce the stigma and shame of mental health issues?
- Talk openly about mental health.
- Don’t be ashamed to talk to others about depression, anxiety, bipolar, or other mental health issues.
- Share positive thoughts on social media.
- Don’t judge others.
- Learn facts about others and don’t share in gossip.
- Remember that words matter, and if you can’t say something nice, don’t say anything at all.
- Be compassionate.
- Be empowered.
- Attend a mental health fair.
- Seek help from your doctor if you’re struggling with mental health issues.
If you’re considering suicide, please, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1.800.273.8255. They’re open 24 hours a day, seven days a week. The call is free!
You can also Text the word SILENCE to 741741 and speak with a trained crisis professional. Your call is confidential.
Visit their website at https://silencetheshame.com/ for more information on how you can help or seek help.
It only takes a spark to get a fire going, and perhaps that is all that many of us need to change our lives and stop stigmatizing others by avoiding them and going out of our way to be rude to them. Will you light that spark today? How will you Silence The Shame? Share on social media with #SilenceTheShame. Share your thoughts in the comments; we’d love to hear from you.