Four Ways to Slay Stigma

Stigma is a bizarre phenomenon if you really think about it. It survives despite being counterproductive — even counter-evolutionary. It exists for no reason other than our propensity to be outsmarted by our egos which urge us to be more invested in others’ naive (at best), even hateful bias, than in our own well being.

An example: As grownups, we get to make our own choices. We get to decide if we want to eat ice cream before dinner, play hooky from work…if we’d like to have sex. However, when it comes time to take a concrete step toward practicing safe sex, say, going to the store to buy condoms, many of us (if not most), freak out! We don’t want people at the drug store to see us perusing the “family planning” section. Logically, we know that buying condoms is a healthy and responsible thing to do. We know that to do so is to make an effort to take care of ourselves and our partners. And yet, we can find ourselves subscribing to stigma around sex…stigma that evokes shame and decrees that sex — even safe, consensual, grown-up sex — is bad. And the thing with shame is that it hijacks our logic, compelling us to do things we don’t want to. Like, avoid condom buying and instead engage in risky sex. That’s just silly.

The same thing plays out far too often when faced with challenges related to our mental health. Rather than prioritize taking good care of ourselves, we make up a great big (usually senseless) story that’s driven by ignorant stigma that demands that to seek mental health support is to “look crazy.” So, we forgo the investment in ourselves that is mental health treatment and in doing so compromise our capacity to achieve our highest potential. That’s pretty ridiculous, right? I mean, we don’t blink at the idea of going to see a personal trainer to improve our physical fitness, so why all the weirdness about strengthening our emotional muscle?

In short — Stigma. Is. Stupid. — so, why not do something about it?

Here are some ways to take better care of you…and in doing so, help to slay stigma:

1. Educate yourself (and maybe even share some truth with others). Every year, 20% of American adults are diagnosed with a mental illness and almost half of American adults will experience an episode of mental illness in their life time. Facts like these can be powerful in helping to normalize the experience of mental illness.

2. Practice asking for help. We often have the idea that asking for help is a sign of weakness. However, the reality is that the strongest people have no doubt that they can do things on their own — and they know they don’t need to. You can practice small like by asking for help opening the door when your hands are full. Then work up to asking for some comfort when you’re feeling down. This practice not only helps you prepare to ask for more serious help, it also sets an example for others that it’s okay for them to ask too.

3. Access incredible resources that pull from stories of real people like those found in ANXY, any of David Sadaris’ essays, and the work of Brené Brown. The brave tales found in these works help one to realize that while the experience of mental illness is difficult, it’s not bad. In fact, it just may be one of the magic ingredients in your charm, your wit…your magic.

4. Share your story. Share your story with those who deserve to hear it. Create art that tells of the places you have been and what you have overcome. And teach those you love to do the same. The act of owning all of who you truly are creates emotional space within the self and initiates you into the club of the Stigma Slayers!

About The Author

Coley Williams is the Co-Founder and Chief Medical Officer of Level Therapy. She is also a Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and practices psychotherapy in California. You can connect with her on LinkedIn.

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