Every year, Bell’s Let’s Talk event leads me to pause and consider mental health awareness. While we have come a long way with increased awareness and education, stigma persists. Whenever discussing the stigma of mental health with clients, one word invariably comes up: shame. The experience of mental health difficulties is tough enough, and when we compound it with shame, these struggles become costlier and more detrimental.
Let’s try an exercise together: Think of an experience where you have or do feel shame. Feel the oppressive weight of shame; sit with it. Maybe you start to feel hot, your heart begins to race and your mind becomes overloaded with thoughts. Now imagine you have a broken leg. Imagine you were ashamed of your broken leg. Think about how this shame may lead you to behave. Perhaps you would not seek treatment, socially isolate, not utilize your social supports, and label yourself as “broken” or “useless.” When we think about being ashamed of a broken leg it seems irrational, but why is this any different than with mood or anxiety difficulties?
Shame is expensive. It costs people in their mental and emotional health, their connection with others and their utilization of effective resources. Let’s devalue shame. A start to this devaluation is education and information. If you or someone you know struggles with mental health difficulties, gain the knowledge that can be used to dispute irrational critical beliefs. Professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists and family doctors have a wealth of information that can assist people in their treatment process. Facts fight stigma.
Shame is not a commodity – it is not effective in helping you manage your needs. Knowledge is empowerment to seek and utilize supports and treatment. Remember, just because your “leg is broken,” doesn’t mean you are!
Until next time!
Note: Not all resources are created equal, so utilize reputable ones to get correct information. Below are some online resources that can assist your mental health education.