Don’t tell anyone, I was once told.
I genuinely appreciated that well-meaning piece of advice when I mentioned my struggle with clinical depression to a mentor. It was meant to keep me safe from hurtful comments, from the people that may not understand and might even exploit me on some level because of this information.
Yet, insidiously, I was being fed another message –
As long as I have this illness, people would view me differently. I would never be accepted.
I became extremely cautious with the way I spoke. It was no doubt awkward and unlike my natural, open and friendly self. Needless to say, people around me felt I was being… well.. weird.
After many stilted conversations and tense, furtive exchanges at social events, I became so ill at ease that I eventually broke news to someone I know. She was an ex-classmate, someone whom I still consider a very good friend today.
Flustered, she responded, “You cannot be depressed! You must cheer up and think positively! Does anyone know about this??”
I went home feeling more helpless than when I first did.
It was a sombre realisation that when it came to mental illness, not everybody knows how to appropriately respond to the subject or sufferer.
(and by appropriately, I mean in a tactful, helpful and sensitive manner.)
But why should we expect them to, when there is a lack of accurate knowledge on mental illness in the first place?
Breaking the silence, ironically, was what set me on the path towards recovery.
I refused to let this become a secret that kept me sick. I refused to let this subtle message of societal condemnation become fuel for internalised self-stigmatization.
Let’s change the message we are sending and receiving.
But not just anyone. Confide in a person who understands and empathizes with you. Someone who can support you in the best possible way. It could even be a team of caring people – a sibling, the family doctor, spouse, best friend, counsellor.
Stigma is nothing more than a vicious cycle of fear and ignorance:
1. We fear being judged, so we keep quiet.
2. When we are quiet, people remain ignorant.
3. When people are ignorant, they respond inappropriately.
4. And when they do, we become even more afraid.
5. We remain silent.
So let’s help them help us. Speak to those that would listen so they might have insight to our experiences with mental health challenges.
If you’re ready to lend a voice and take a stand against the stigma on mental health, please write us at thetapestryproject.sg (at) gmail (dot) com