A few months ago, I submitted an article to the editor of the magazine for a local professional organization. I looked forward to this opportunity to share some wisdom with an audience whom I rarely have the opportunity to connect with. I spent a lot of time writing and tweaking this article, hoping it would be published. Unfortunately, I received a rejection notice, but it came with an explanation. The editor informed me that he believed that the board voted against my article because deep down, they didn’t like reading about people in their profession struggling with emotional problems.
As someone who is acutely aware of the negative impacts of stigma, this was disheartening. I wondered how many of the 13,000 subscribers to that magazine could have benefitted from the information and maybe even been encouraged to reach out for help. The people I work with frequently share about how long it took them to call for an appointment or about their fear in letting others know they are in therapy because of concerns about being judged or treated differently. Stigma leads to isolation, interfering with our ability to recover. There is also a ripple effect when we don’t share about our struggles and how we coped, as others can’t benefit from our knowledge and experience.
I recently had the privilege of viewing the screening of a documentary coming out in a few months called The Anonymous People (see trailer below). The theme of this movie is that people in 12-Step programs like Alcoholics Anonymous and Narcotics Anonymous have misinterpreted the Anonymous part, leading to keeping their recovery a secret. The lengthy history of how stigma and this misunderstanding has negatively impacted the recovery community due to lack of hope for people struggling, poor funding for services and lack of helpful legislation was chronicled.
For those of you who are receiving treatment to help you make positive changes in your life, you are to be commended. And for those of you who share with others about your struggles and successes in coping with life’s challenges, give yourself an extra pat on the back. If you don’t fit into the above categories, there are opportunities everyday for you to help eliminate the stigma against mental health and substance abuse. Learn about these illnesses and the available treatments and don’t be afraid to talk with others about what you’ve learned. Confront someone when they make an inaccurate statement based in fear. For example, when you hear a friend say they were afraid of the person they came into contact with because that person appeared “crazy,” remind them that people with mental health issues are more often the victims of crime than the perpetrators of crime. You don’t have to be rich or invest a lot of time to make an impact. What will you do today to fight stigma?