Shame – It’s Time to Talk About Mental Illness

My first blog entry on this site was entitled “The Journey From Stigma to Shame”. To recap, in that entry, I argued that Stigma was better defined as a mark of ‘shame’, as opposed to ‘disgrace’, towards a particular circumstance, quality or person. Certainly shame appeared to offer a better definition, but I have not yet discussed shame and its impact on how sufferers feel when suffering from stigmatisation towards mental illness.

I explained, in that first post, that I felt a lot of shame due to how I’ve behaved while I have been unwell. I think this is a problem for a lot of sufferers. Shame and mental illness seem very closely linked as, in its most influential form, shame can prevent sufferers from admitting they have a mental health problem and, therefore, they refuse to search out the help that is available. Getting help is not a sign of weakness it is a sign of strength (Ditch the Label, 2018). From my own experience, I know that my illness has made me a more rounded and complete individual. I have been able to reflect upon, and recognise my weaknesses and created a life around those shortfalls that have made me a better, kinder, stronger, more loving and more understanding individual. With this has come a resilience to the shame and stigma that has been a part of my journey.

Metaphorically, I look at stigma towards my illness like the Coastal Erosion Barriers you find on some beaches around Britain. These barrier fences come up the beach out of the sea. They are designed to keep the beach from being picked up by the sea and dumped further down the coastline. Throughout my journey, towards an understanding of myself and my mental health, I have constructed similar barriers in my mind, that prevent people from getting in and chucking my thoughts to somewhere where they shouldn’t be. I take full responsibility for my own thoughts, and I keep them where they need to be, in order for me to understand and create healthy responses to the circumstances and people that come into my life.

I have heard shame described as the cancer of the soul. The question that comes up for me is, why do we feel so ashamed about an illness of our minds, compared with the shameless reaction we have when faced with physical illness? Society is built around the idea that we must care what other people think of us. In order to overcome stigma of our mental health we must train our minds not to search out recognition and approval of others and act from a sense of our true selves. Once you act in a selfish way; by this I don’t mean disregarding others, but instead, I mean, what can be best described as avoiding behaviour that has formulated due to ‘reward-and-punishment’ education. Here appropriate action results in praise, while any inappropriate action results in punishment. This form of education results in faulty lifestyles where people think, “If no one is going to praise me, I won’t take appropriate action and if no one is going to punish me, I’ll engage in inappropriate actions too” (Koga and Kishimi, 2018). To be truly free we must live our lives free from the feeling that we must meet other peoples’ expectations. Only then will we be able to deal with shame from a personal stand-point. Do you go around validating the expectations of others. No. So isn’t it absurd to expect others to be validating your actions. 

It is important that, by putting the expectations of others to rest, you can speak freely. If you like politics, for example, don’t be afraid to talk about it. Don’t be afraid of speaking up for what you believe in, and enjoy, even if that challenges the status quo. Putting Stigma to Shame aims to get people sharing their experiences with mental illness without any preconceived ideas that they will be stigmatised against. We operate by the premise that a problem shared is a problem halved. Don’t be afraid to voice you opinion and share your voice. You don’t get another chance at life and you may just do something miraculous for someone in the process. Speak up and help put stigma to shame!

REFERENCES

Ditch the Label. (2018). 10 Reasons Why you Should Never be Ashamed of your Mental Illness – Ditch the Label. [online] Available at: https://www.ditchthelabel.org/10-reasons-never-ashamed-mental-illness/ [Accessed 3 Mar. 2019].

Koga, F. and Kishimi, I. (2018). The Courage To Be Disliked: How to Free Yourself, Change Your Life and Achieve Real Happiness. George Allen & Unwin.

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