Stigma or Stigmata?

Posted: July 27, 2015 in Depression, Mental Illness, Stigma

stigma: a set of negative and often unfair beliefs that a society or group of people have about something (Webster).

stigmata – marks resembling the wounds on the crucified body of Christ. wound, lesion – an injury to living tissue (especially an injury involving a cut or break in the skin) (Free Dictionary)

So far as I’m concerned, one of the biggest problems with mental illness, and a tremendous barrier to seeking help, is the stigma associated with it. Julian Seifter put it this way:

You are not your illness. You have an individual story to tell. You have a name, a history, a personality. Staying yourself is part of the battle.

To the outside world, mental illness is a stigma. But to those of us who see it from the inside, it is indeed stigmata: that is, an injury to living tissue. Specifically, our hearts and our brains. And though we often forget this simple truth, the fact remains that we are not our illness. I have depression—I am not depression itself. Although sometimes, when I’m in the depths of darkness, “and Grief, fierce and omnipotent, Plants his black banner on my drooping skull,” (Baudelaire), it feels that way.

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The committee of which I am a part (Strong DPACC) works towards removing the stigma associated with mental illness, as do many other fine organizations such as Mental Health America, the Mental Health Association in my city of Rochester, NY, and the National Institute of Mental Health.

But it’s an uphill battle, in that so many people still view all mental illnesses as meaning there’s something wrong morally with you. This view has been prevalent for so long in so many Western societies that even some churches discourage or even forbid their members from getting the treatment they so desperately need, preferring instead to pray their way to a cure. And some, like the pseudo-religion known as Scientology, go so far as to call for the abolition of psychiatry and psychology as practices.

But there is hope. Those of us who are afflicted with mental illness are starting to take a stand against the discrimination and stigmatization of our conditions. We are starting to push back against the insurance industry, which far too often limits the number of visits to a therapist they’ll pay for. That’s like telling someone with acute appendicitis, “We’ll pay for removing your appendix, but we won’t cover any post-operative care.”

So if you suffer from a mental illness, or know someone who does, don’t give up hope! We’re here, we care, and we will never stop fighting for what’s right!

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