Mental Health Awareness Month of May…Help Stamp Out Stigma

by | May 3, 2020

Mental Health Awareness…Stop Stigma! from NAMI…

“During the month of May, NAMI and participants across the country are bringing awareness to mental health. Each year we fight stigma, provide support, educate the public and advocate for equal care. Each year, the movement grows stronger.

We believe that these issues are important to address all year round, but highlighting these issues during May provides a time for people to come together and display the passion and strength of those working to improve the lives of all Americans whose lives are affected by mental health conditions.

1 in 5 Americans will be affected by a mental health condition in their lifetime and every American is affected or impacted through their friends and family and can do something to help others.”

Stigma hurts a person’s dignity, and for me, life long implications of emotional pain and denial. Allow me to share my first shock of stigma at age 19 in September 1965 following an honorable discharge from the US Navy.

My first shocking experience with mental health stigma as an adult happened shortly after honorably separating from the US Navy in September 1965.  It was in that moment that my world as a young adult with a bright future was seriously threatened. Following a very productive and exciting interview process with a Fortun in Los Angeles, I fully expected an offer for employment as an apprentice teleprinter technician with the phone company.

I felt grateful for the excellent training and experience received in the Navy. But all the excitement and hope for a career in telecommunications could have come to a shocking halt when the HR recruiter told me…”even though my qualifications exceeded minimum requirements I could not be hired.”  I asked why, while trying to hide the tears.

I thought with complete shock and dispair, “how could this be?”  It was at that moment, the HR recruiter revealed to me that hospitalization for severe depression and anxiety while serving in the US Navy was considered a risk. I was in complete disbelief because the Navy didn’t say this to me, or decided not to for some reason. I never had access to my medical records until 2014. I had no memory of the event(s) leading up to an early separation from the Navy, the hospitalization or mental health diagnosis. It was a sad ending to a promising Naval career, my dream as a child, teen, and young man. I wanted to follow my father’s foot steps to be sure.

It was then, in that scary moment in September 1965, I decided to never ever speak of my mental health problems…my secret, forever put away in a box and out of reach.  This was stigma then, it is still stigma in the 21st Century.  (Note: I was fortunate to receive a job offer from another respectable telecom company.)

We can all do so much more to stamp out stigma. Please help make a difference by taking quality time to talk openly and honestly with friends and family about mental health. Awareness is the first step in healing invisible wounds.

Steve Sparks, Mental Health Advocate, Author, Blogger click here for my author page…

About the author

Steve Sparks is a retired information technology sales and marketing executive with over 35 years of industry experience, including a Bachelors’ in Management from St. Mary’s College. His creative outlet is as a non-fiction author, writing about his roots as a post-WWII US Navy military child growing up in the 1950s-1960s.
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