“She kicked the bucket because some people bullied her.”
“He OD’ed again.”
“They do that for attention.”
“Of course they’re in rehab, they live in Hollywood!”
I used to speak like that. They are words and attitudes so engrained into our Australian culture that it often seems harder to not say them than keep quiet about a recently publicised event or a person in our community who is struggling. The saddest aspect of this, is that sometimes I don’t think we even realise that what we are saying is filled with stigma.
Stigma that ignores the fact that a women struggled for years and deserves to be remembered with integrity.
Stigma that forgets that a man may have relapsed after years of sobriety, and this is just another part of his story still being written.
Stigma that tells us the person who injures themselves does it for attention, yet they do it because they want to feel something in the numbness of their soul.
Stigma that tells us to ignore that expectant mum because she is pregnant teenager.
Stigma that expects us to be ‘over’ our grief of losing a friend or a relationship in a matter of weeks.
Stigma that forgets every person is valuable.
Sometimes we don’t ask for help because we expect these responses from our community. I have refrained from telling people about my struggles, because I am scared they will see me as that ‘sick’ person, or someone who is ‘over-reacting’ because they struggle to get out of bed in the morning. The irony of this is that I often feel like a pin-up girl for counselling. In some ways, I have been open about my walk with mental illness and anxiety, I will even tell people I’ve been in and out of therapy for a decade. But I must confess something to you; even though I am the person who advocates for honesty and encourages my friends to go to counselling, I hate asking for help myself. What I have realised, is that even after years of trying to overcome the stigma society places upon me and everyone else who has experiences mental illness, I have not been able to overcome the stigma that lives inside myself.
I have been blessed in my recovery. I have had family, friends, counselors and psychologists willing to listen to me, who have done everything in their power to help me walk into this. I know I am one of the lucky ones, one of the people who is able to tell others there is light in the impenetrable darkness. But if I still believe the stigma that tells me I am worthless, then how does someone without the community or hope I have overcome it?
We need to be the change. We need to fight the stigma that tells people our struggles are stupid, that we are just a mess and everyone else is normal. Because no one is normal. Everyone struggles, everyone bleeds and everyone hurts. And the same stigma that labels you that lazy misfit, is telling the mother across the street that she is a worthless drain on society because she lives in Community Housing. We all have scars we are ashamed of and things stigma tells us are unmentionable. Well screw the stigma. Let’s talk about the things that hurt. Let’s talk about the fact that the celebrity has friends and family who are tirelessly working to help them recover from addiction, or that we admire our friend who is in rehab because she was brave enough to ask for help. Let’s support people when their relationships break down, and sit with them while they grieve for a close friend lost years ago.
Next time you hear about someone who is struggling, what will you do? Will you dismiss them because you expected ‘it’ to happen, or will you ask them how you can help? Will you be that one who asks why ‘it’ happened? Will you the friend to give them a link to some resources and encourages them to ask for help? Will you be the person who quietly tells someone that maybe they should take that Tweet down because it makes you uncomfortable?
I want to be that person. It’s hard, and it’s a task I walk in daily. But I choose to question the stigma, because I believe my life and the lives of those around me are more valuable than some social norms that tell us we need to have it together. Walk with me in this. It starts with one, then two and then it becomes a movement. A movement is fluid, it flows and expands until it cannot be contained anymore. Today let’s choose to be a part of the movement that tells people they are worth more than the labels stigma places on them. Let’s be a movement of hope.