The Danger of Stigma

I posted on Facebook today this:  “Stigma is shame.  Shame causes silence.  Silence hurts everyone.”  I was struck by a comment from one of my friends who said, “Stigma is the root of all suffering whose ripples expand and touch countless others…”  Wow.

Her comment really struck a cord with me.  I know from my experience how much stigma impacted my willingness to get help and stay with a treatment plan.  Stigma caused me to internalize a tremendous amount of guilt because I had this mental illness “label.”

I don’t believe in labels, but I do believe in diagnosis.  Without the correct diagnosis I was put on the wrong medications and it made my underlying condition worse.  It is important to know what is going on and if it takes a “label” to help someone I am okay with that.  But the fact that we even think of mental health conditions as labels means we have a problem.

I read a great deal about mental illness.  I don’t read as much about mental health because I have a good understanding of what it takes to be mentally healthy.  But as I researched information for an upcoming talk I am giving I found there is such a difference between what mental health advocates use to describe a mental illness.  Here are some of them:  mental health issue, mental health concern, brain disorder, mental health condition, and finally mental illness.  All of us advocates are trying to make it okay to talk about mental illness.  We are all trying to fight against the stigma.  Some do it in a different language because of the great stigma attached to the words mental illness.

Here is the question I ask myself – what words make the most impact?  I find myself using them all interchangeably.  But I have to say there is a big difference between a mental health issue and a severe mental illness.  An issue is something we can get over a severe mental illness is something that requires a life long battle.  I believe if we are going to educate we have to be real and raw.  Let’s get real about what we are dealing with and then let’s work to help people know it is okay to get help.

Experience is our greatest teacher.  I have been on this journey with mental illness for more than 30 years.  Trust me when I tell you the stigma of mental illness is dangerous and we must do everything in our power to eliminate it.  Lives are at stake.



13 thoughts on “The Danger of Stigma

  1. I agree with you about severe mental illness. It doesn’t go away. You learn from your experience. I’m not sorry for myself. I have learned so much about how to manage me. I can say I like me. I couldn’t say that for years, because of the illness. Amy you have had a great impact on alot of people. Keep going. It means alot. You’ve made a difference.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Dear Amy, when I read this post last week, I had some mixed emotions and didn’t know what and if I should even comment. TBT I don’t have a severe mental illness nor have I ever been diagnozed with any particular illness. My country – inshort our African continent is still way far back as far as psychology and psychiatry and mental health is concerned. My kid brother of blessed memory only got diagnosed with bipolar disorder when he moved to the US. That said, I have gone through some murky roads as far as my mental health is concerned. I advocate for a good an open mental health not only because it’s important to me, but also for the countless voiceless especially in my country and continent. I don’t know if not having a diagnosis or label makes me ‘unqualified’ as a mental health advocate. I personally do not go into mental illness because I wouldn’t know what to say, having never officially been diagnosed as mentally ill. I hesitated leaving a comment until another blogger encouraged me to do leave one but to make sure it was polite. I hope I have achieved this. If not, bear with me and our different circumstances.


    1. Marie–I am so glad you commented. I never meant to imply being a mental health advocate only means talking about mental illness. I was especially struck that all of advocates have different names we call our advocacy work but we are all trying to raise awareness. I commend you for your efforts and believe what you are doing is important.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. Hi Amy. It seems, from my experience, that anything with the label “mental” is a cause for discomfort in most people. There is a certain fear of the unknown. The first thought that comes to mind when people hear the term “mental illness” or “mental” anything, are the extreme states. People in general don’t understand that there is a spectrum from mild on up to extreme and most of us fall in the mild to mid-ranges. But it is the extreme cases that get reported by the news media so that is naturally what people think of as mental illness and it frightens them. They think of a person with mental illness as one who is out of control. If we don’t speak up, people will never know that those incidents are a small minority. The majority of us appear to be just like everyone else. We may have mood issues that are somewhat more elevated than the “norm” at times but we are not a danger to anyone. How will they know if no one tells them? Stigma is a dirty word. I hope I see it eradicated in my lifetime. I am running a depression group along with another lady. You have to have major depression or bipolar to run it. It has to be taught by people who have experienced it. That automatically tells the community that we have a mental illness. It also makes us approachable to answer people’s questions and we do get some. Keep up the good work and thanks for writing your blog.


    1. Thank you for sharing your perspective. I agree with you about the whole idea of the word “Mental” causing fear. I always tell people I talk with that we get really weird when it comes to talking about disorders affecting the brain. The light bulbs go off when I say that. I will say that I am actually one of those people who have a very severe case of bipolar…fortunately it is controlled pretty well with medications but it took me a long time. So glad you are facilitating peer support groups I have found them to be great.

      Liked by 1 person

    1. Katie…I completely agree with you. BPD is a terrible name for a complex problem usually caused by trauma. The diagnosis sounds like someone has a character flaw…thanks for sharing your perspective. I will read your article.


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