We hear a lot about mental health stigma in society but how much is talked about self stigma?
When battling for over a decade with various mental health conditions, it’s been hard to have a good self esteem in a world that doesn’t like to talk about our mental health. I am also physically disabled and so I use this as the reason to why I’m not in paid employment, when someone asks what I do for a living. I rarely feel comfortable enough to explain that I am only involved with voluntary work, because of various mental health conditions that also limit my ability to be reliable enough to commit to being able to work for an employer.
I feel the pressure to be in paid employment as if not working is seen as i’m ‘not contributing to society’ or ‘not paying my way’ or ‘not paying my taxes’. But more than this, there is stigma because mental illness is an invisible illness too.
In a previous volunteer position, someone commented that ‘you don’t look ill’ and that ‘I looked well’, they didn’t believe me for the mental health conditions I have. I felt judged by my outward appearance.
This leads me to feel like I have to keep my mental health a secret. I have to put a face on and this leads me to stigmatize myself…
‘I’m an adult, i should be able to sort my problems out!’, I’m intelligent enough, how come i can’t get myself better by now?, ‘Everyone gets a bit depressed but they still work!’
It does make life harder when I am mentally beating myself up with self stigma too!
It takes a lot of people to remind me to stop being so self critical. I shouldn’t judge myself like society judges when I know that mental illness is a medical illness. For a physical illness you wouldn’t say ‘ its your fault, you should know better, stop being so lazy’ to someone with heart condition, would you?
And then getting better takes time. It can’t be rushed.
As with many mental health conditions, it’s a daily battle to just take care of myself. By volunteering some days, I do feel that I am contributing back to society and this helps me when I feel negative about not being in paid employment. But not everyone with mental illness can do volunteer work, it effects us all differently and there is little understanding of that. Mental health stigma in society, leads to damaging self stigma and that only makes the problem worse.