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Removing Stigma

How telling our stories can help

By Warren Vinciguerra

Warren Vinciguerra on removing stigma of mental illness.

Mental illness is one of the most common disorders worldwide.

Symptoms of mental illness include lowering of mood, reduction of energy, and decrease in activity. Concentration is reduced, and marked tiredness after even minimal effort is common. Sleep is usually disturbed and appetite diminished. Self-esteem and self-confidence are almost always reduced and ideas of guilt or worthlessness are often present. Somatic symptoms - those that occur in the body - include loss of interest and pleasurable feelings, waking in the morning several hours before the usual time, agitation, loss of appetite, weight loss, and loss of libido. I'm sure many readers will identify with some of these. 

355 million people suffer from depression globally making it more common than aids, diabetes and cancer combined. Yet there's still so much stigma attached to it, and this has a negative impact on recovery. Images on social media, TV, in the news, online and in the newspapers add to the disproportionately negative views of mentally ill people.

These platforms often give disturbing messages to mentally unwell people. Some of the most common insults include, you’re a psycho, you’re paranoid, you’re sick, lazy, stupid, selfish, frustrating and even dangerous. All these harmful statements, when added to the debilitating symptoms of mental illness, make the already harmful illness even more difficult to recover from. 

Stigma itself has been shown to cause physical symptoms, these include; low motivation to challenge perceptions, an attitude of defeat, loss of hope, inability to believe recovery is possible, lack of purpose, feeling useless, shame, low self-esteem, fatigue, anxiety and mood fluctuations. 

Our stories help remove stigma

Every true story you hear from a person recovering from mental illness has the capacity to deconstruct the destructive messages (secondary symptoms) given to unwell people. This then helps facilitate recovery from the primary symptoms of mental illness. 

We need recovering mentally ill people to share the truth of their recovery, often in difficult circumstances, in order to give hope and inspiration to others and to dispel the myths and destroy stigma.

At Help Me Stop we provide a safe space to share our stories in an open and honest way. Our counsellors are caring and non-judgemental. And like me, they’ve all dealt with their own mental health issues. A major part of our recovery programme is to give clients the chance to relate to others in the same situation and to become free from shame. There should be no shame – each and every one of us will suffer from some kind of mental illness at some point in their lives.