Shattering the Silence- Mental Health Stigma

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I continue to see posts on various sites from professionals who preach about “breaking stigma” and speaking out about mental health issues. While I think this is great, it hurts to see these same professionals continuing to promote stigma by refusing to give more than a few words on their own issues. I have been “in the field” for years, as both a professional and a client. I am currently in my second year of a masters program in social work and now I see how stigma doesn’t just hurt the client, it hinders the professionals as well.

So many of my peers have gone through various mental health treatments and have valid insights on what works and what doesn’t, but most of them do not speak up in class because they are ashamed or afraid it’s inappropriate. I proudly share my experience, strength, and hope with my peers, hoping I can help them to speak up. Those in the class with no personal mental health issues often learn a lot from what we have to say. The silence and shame of dealing with trauma, addiction, depression, and suicidality was just too much for me to handle. When I first realized talking helped others understand what I needed, I vowed to never be silent again.

Recently I had a classmate ask, “how do you know so much about assessment, medications, and diagnosis?” There was no hesitation to my reply; I proceeded to give her a quick synopsis of what I have experienced. To her, and the rest of my classmates present, I said:

“I have been through the system since I was 14 and have made it my mission to learn about every diagnosis and medication I have ever had. The sheer number of both is enough to astound anyone. I have survived sexual/physical/emotional abuse, loss, grief, misdiagnosis, and improper medication management. At one point I was on so many medications that I do not remember months out of my life. Based on diagnosis, I have been given treatments that were “correct” for the diagnosis but traumatic for me. Self-advocacy was the only way I could move past my diagnosis and I have watched others unable to do so because they are unable to advocate for themselves. I was once diagnosed based on my sexuality and forced to come out to my family. I went on for years abusing anti-anxiety medications, over the counter sleep aids, and various other “non-addictive” medications because everyone fell back on my diagnosis of depression and anxiety disorder and did not think to ask WHY I was using certain substances. I have had my diagnosis changed several times based on what symptoms a certain doctor chooses to highlight at a particular time. And when it all came to a head, I had to chose to stay enabled by the system trying to help me or to teach the system what I needed to get better. I chose to get better and to share this with others so we can help those who cannot help themselves.”

This is why I am a Social Worker. I have gone through a lot and there has to be a reason. The reason I choose to accept is that I am meant to help others. That means I always help myself first, to set an example of surviving and self care. For me healing means healing my whole body, mind, and spirit. I work my 12 step program, I dance, I pray, I meditate, I use mindfulness, and I continue to seek what speaks to my spirit. I hope my story helps someone else realize there is no RIGHT way to recover, only YOUR way. Take what you want, leave the rest, and pass on what you can.

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