I haven’t posted for a while. I really only want to post when it’s meaningful. Of course, as fate would have it, after all this time, two important topics arrive at once: The Vulnerability of our Young MEN’s mental health and Mental Health STIGMA. Both are driving forces in why A Path To Follow was founded. Tonight, I give you stigma, only because STIGMA punched me in the face long before the probability of mental illness reaching at least one of boys did.
So, STIGMA-what is it? Here’s my experience of how I have felt when applied to me:
SANE describes STIGMA as having 3 underlying elements: “problems of knowledge (ignorance), problems of attitudes (prejudice), and problems of behaviour (discrimination)”.
I grew up in a time when my depressive symptoms were labeled as something purely physical in nature or as some weird, direct genetic implant of weakness from my mother. I was, ‘just like my mother’ or just a tad more ‘sensitive’ compared to those around me. I strived hard not to stand out from the crowd, to be cool and popular; be whatever it was every individual wanted me to be. But STAND OUT I did: I suffered severe anxiety when trying to have a simple “sleep over”, refused to go to school for three months in grade 3 and much preferred to be at home as a teenager, then out and about with my friends. As a child I always strived (and failed) to be a part of the cool group, then when with them, never felt quite cool enough. I developed self-stigma very early. That, mixed with my experience of mental health symptoms, made for a young girl who never felt quite good enough. She certainly knew she was “like her mum”, but didn’t want to be because of the stereotypes often bantered around about her mum’s condition.
The stigma I encountered was a sign of the times and a sign of being a member of a small country town. I encountered it, I know my mum encountered it and obviously thousands of others, just like us, encountered it. I can’t talk any longer about stigmatism and being in the country, but I do know that research shows that of those most vulnerable to experiencing mental health conditions, living in rural areas and being young (particularly a young man), is way up there in terms of risk.
For the most part, the stigmatism I experience now is secondary. I have great support by some people, who have been vocal in support of me and what I am trying to achieve. But then I have others who communicate a certain type of admiration for what I have achieved and continue to achieve, both in times of my own health and in terms of A Path To Follow. However, some of these very same people are still subscribing to the stigma and its stereotypes: they won’t go on “the” medication, they will stop talking or change the subject when mental health gets mentioned, they’ll still spew words like ‘psycho’, ‘wrong in the head’ without feeling for the impact of such words. They will banter about suicide and self-harm like they are normal ways of people trying to seek attention. They will see the merits in A Path To Follow, but never actually throw their open, public support behind it. That’s stigma people and its impact can be very influential in one’s path of recovery.
I want to finish with a small note about my childhood and my mum. Hindsight is the queen of all knowledge and it was knowledge of mental health that we didn’t have much of back. Society encouraged us to hide it, not talk about it or if we did to ridicule those who suffered it. I was lucky really, I grew up amongst much love and had a few very beautiful people who nurtured and protected me. I will never forget that and it helps to drive me to offer a similar protection to my boys. I had a mum and dad and sister as involved in my life as any child could want and a special Auntie who showered me with much love. As a mum, as a person where mental illness has been a frightening and enlightening journey, I now know I am like my mum. I am proud of that, but grateful that I am in an era where it’s much easier to be ME. Really; my mum must have been made of some great stuff to grow up in the country, as part of a generation where mental illness was scoffed at or ignored. She did it and she’s still kicking it too, I must say.
May you set a path that stands up for mental wellbeing and kicks the very butt of mental health related stigma.
I really do have some really important reasons to keep walking this PATH. Thank you!