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Fight the Stigma

May 15, 2013

On Saturday I participated in the 2013 NAMIWalks in New York City. I was joined by my friends Franchesca, Sydney, Steve, his wife Naomi and their children. We had a great time, undeterred by the rain.

This is the second year that I joined in this particular fight against the stigma of mental illness. Last year I went alone. I wanted to get a team together but I wasn’t yet comfortable speaking about my own experiences with depression, which is a type of mental illness. I spent most of my 20’s battling depression, and my experience is a major factor in who I am today. Yet being open about having suicidal thoughts, alcohol and weed abuse, and feelings of hopelessness is not easy. So asking people to join me in a walk to support the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) seemed like a bit of a stretch.

I’ve known for some time that the only way to defeat the stigma is to talk about mental illness. Earlier this year I gave a speech at The New Voice Toastmasters about my experience with depression:

Right after the speech and in the following days, people started sharing their own stories with me. I was amazed at how, by opening myself up, others felt liberated to do the same. People told me about their battles with depression, their battles with alcohol and drug abuse, and their battles to save their family and friends struggling with mental illness. I also learned a sad reality, that silence can lead to death. I heard stories of people who cried out in some way but didn’t get help, and ended up taking their own life and/or the life of someone else.

The stigma keeps people silent. Nobody wants to be labeled as “crazy,” “weak,” or “inadequate.” Some people know they need mental help but don’t seek it out, because of the stigma. In our society it’s acceptable to go to the doctor when you have a cold or an injury, but going to a doctor for mental health purposes is frowned upon. We must change this. Defeating the stigma against mental health is literally a matter of life and death.

It’s still not easy for me to about speak my experience. But since I’ve started opening up, I’ve seen the impact that talking can have. I see how one person talking leads to another person talking which can lead to someone else, and someone else after that, and so on. I know that I can’t be silent anymore, and that I must encourage others to share their stories as well. Talk about mental illness. Share your story. Even if it’s about a family member or a close friend instead of yourself, people need to know that mental health isn’t about a few “crazy” people. Fight the stigma.

From → Wellness

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