The Power of Collective Empathy & Community Support

We all know that there is a huge stigma attached to mental illness; and because of that stigma, sufferers feel isolated, don’t access treatment, or neglect their needs. They often sit in silence and suffer. Whether people feel ashamed and try to hide their illness, or fear discrimination, they don’t need to. With effective treatment, most sufferers will be able to either treat their condition, recover, or live well with their illness. In speaking out, creating community support we provide collective empathy. We can not only fight the stigma, but help sufferers feel less alone, supported, and less alienated.

Today there are an increasing number of organizations, online blogs, and publications dedicated to providing support and raising awareness of all types of mental illness, from depression to addiction. I spoke to a couple of these organizations and bloggers to find out more about the power of empathy and community.

Sarah Fader is an advocate for fighting the stigma attached to mental illness. She is the CEO and Founder of Stigma Fighters, a non-profit organization dedicated to helping real people living with mental illness. Like six million other Americans, Sarah lives with panic disorder and bipolar. Through Stigma Fighters, Sarah hopes to change the world, one mental health stigma at a time.

Sarah tells me that there are teachers, doctors, lawyers, psychologists, actors, writers all living with mental illness. These are the stories that need to be told; the people who seem to be ‘regular’ or ‘normal’ people but are actually hiding a big secret, Sarah tells me. They are living with an invisible illness. They are struggling to function like the rest of society. When I asked about empathy and community, she told me:

‘’When people have terminal diseases they are given the utmost care and concern. However, when someone has a mental illness, which is invisible, no one brings you soup or takes care of you. That is why it’s important to remember to consciously be empathetic to people who live with mental illnesses. You can’t see it but their suffering is real. Empathy is a powerful tool that can help to make someone (like me with bipolar disorder) feel loved.’’

Kelly Fitzgerald, an advocate for raising awareness about recovery from addiction writes a wildly popular blog, The Sober Senorita. Kelly first wrote a story about her first year of sobriety — 7 Things I Learned During My Year Without Alcohol — that went viral, and was picked up by the Huffington Post. People wanted to hear stories about sobriety and they want to know that they are not alone in their struggle. I spoke to Kelly about the benefits of collective empathy and community support. She said:

‘’Sharing my story was really a way for me to find someone to say to me, “you’re not alone, me too!” And I received that, but what is even more powerful is that people are saying those things to me. They identify with my story. I started out seeking support and now I get to provide it as well.’’

The empathy and support we get from community and is powerful. Whatever way you choose to get support, it is really easy to access today, whether in an online forum, a Facebook group, or a meeting. Just know that you are not alone.

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