The Fear and Denial of Mental Health Stigma… Quote from this article from Heathlyplace.com
by Andrea Paquette
“Mental health stigma knows no bounds and is constantly on the move. It can catch you in the workplace or in the classroom. It can interfere with making friends and can even interfere with keeping friends. But since stigma has to begin with a negative attitude or prejudice, if we can lessen the prejudice, we should in theory be able to lessen the discrimination.
People fear what they don’t understand. And let’s face it, mental health has only recently begun to even be an acceptable topic of conversation. Unfortunately, for many, it is still a topic that sends shivers down spines but it doesn’t have to stay that way. By simply talking about it, we normalize it. I have a feeling that, eventually, people will start to understand.
I never told any friends, coworkers or even romantic partners that I had been hospitalized against my will for over four months for drug-induced psychosis. I never told them that I was once again hospitalized for several months for major depression. Why? Because of stigma.”
Memories are still vivid of a painful childhood growing up in a toxic home. I struggled and managed to thrive with the heavy burden of emotional baggage from the 1950’s and early 1960’s until much later in life. Why did I wait so long to confront my past? Fear and denial followed me from the very moment I learned in 1965 that a potential employer would not hire me because my U.S. Navy honorable discharge document (DD214) included a “code” indicating a less than stable mental health condition. I was labeled a risk at age 20 and it scared the hell out of me!
I am grateful now later in life to have been able to move on with another company in the telecommunications business and enjoyed a very successful and exciting career. I was able to complete my college education as well and eventually retired in 2002. I wonder why any young person with a mental health diagnosis would ever reveal their condition or seek treatment… Many of us who survive traumatic experiences in life, march on one day at a time for many years until we have the courage to start the process of healing or when it is safe. I took the safe route until age 64, and it was indeed painful journey…
“Stigma is a self fulfilling prophecy,” they say… It has been 4 years since publishing my book, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story. After all the research and writing on the subject of PTS/PTSD, including this blog with close to 800 postings offering tons of information about my own experience, references and resources with the goal to help others, the human condition of STIGMA leaves me stoned cold and in a quandary. It is clear that we should all seek treatment immediately following a moral injury and living with the awful symptoms of depression and anxiety, including panic attacks. But it would be dishonest for me to suggest to anyone who fears losing opportunities and dreams of career success, especially loving relationships and spiritual growth in life, to ever admit a mental health challenge.
I am still searching for the right answer to help younger people, especially those who served America in hard combat or as a first responder. My prayer and hope is that someday, probably not in my lifetime, that our culture and society will see that stigma is something from our distant past. I pray that the millions of children and families who suffer from mental illness will be treated without prejudice and will have no fear in seeking meaningful long term treatment and begin the journey of healing. No human being should have to carry forward the burden of an invisible and life threatening mental illness to one generation and the next. Lives are at risk while we come to terms with STIGMA…the Germanwings tragedy will haunt all of us forever. Will the lessons learned lead us to healing as a human society and diversified cultures or will it reinforce the fear and denial connected with mental health STIGMA?
Steve Sparks, Author, Reconciliation: A Son’s Story and My Journey of Healing in Life After Trauma, Part 1… Click the highlighted text for my author page…