Fear, Stigma, and Shame of Mental Illness

Mental Illness is messy and most people do not want to deal with it. Admittedly, I too wanted to avoid it until it so stealthily crept into my home. Like cancer, mental illness is only a remote possibility until it touches us personally. However, when it hits us in the gut, right where we live, it becomes an untamable, inextinguishable inferno.

Those who cope with mental illness want to discuss it openly, but when we mention it in social settings, we sense a certain fear coming over others. Therefore, we retreat to our houses, pull down the shades, lock the doors, and isolate ourselves.

Somehow, the opposite is true if our loved one comes down with cancer, MS, or a rare disease. Everyone seems open to listening and discussing, helping out with family needs, and comforting the afflicted. Why do people want to avoid the subject of mental illness? May I suggest it is fear caused by stigma and shame?

Be honest with me now…

If we have had no experience with mental illness, what would our reaction be if a friend or acquaintance told us that their spouse, child, mother, father, brother, or sister has bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, or borderline personality disorder? What would be our first gut response? Are we uncomfortable with the subject or do we want to change it? Does it strike fear in our heart? Do we start judging? Do we want to run?

How would we respond if that same person told us that his/her loved one was just diagnosed with an inoperable brain tumor? We might experience some fear, but I think most people would volunteer to help the family in need.

Symptoms and behaviors of someone with a brain tumor and side effects of their medications could be very similar to those of someone who copes with a mental illness. Yet, the emotional reactions of outsiders might be very different in the two cases. May I ask, why?

I believe we all suffer from fear, stigma, and shame of mental illness – those who cope with it and those who do not. Fear is paralyzing, but there are ways to break this pattern, starting with education and open discussion.

May is Mental Health Month in the U.S. Let’s all do one thing this coming month to break the fear, stigma, and shame of mental illness.

Would you like to register to win a free book about my journey with mental illness in my family? Go to http://www.dorothyruppert.com to enter the drawing. Deadline for entry is 11:59 p.m. CDT on 4-15-13.

About dorothyruppert

Author of two books - God Placed Her in My Path - Lessons Learned From the Furnace of Bipolar Disorder -Sixty Days of Grace - God's Sufficiency for the Journey
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