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The International Writers Magazine: Mental Illness

Fighting against the stigma of mental illness
Abigail George
The trend in today’s society is that shame and stigma, still exists around the global issues of mental health. It is imperative that all of us fight for the dignity for sufferers of mental illness.


We should reassess the ‘name and blame’ game. People who suffer from mental illness should not be seen as outsiders or be isolated and rejected from their workplaces, churches, communities and neighbourhoods.

They should be embraced and accepted for who they are so that they can retain a sense of self-sufficiency, self-respect and return to society as productive human beings who are capable of interacting with their peers and colleagues in every sphere and realm of life.

We must take cognisance of the daily tragedies of stigmatisation which must be fought tooth and nail; from pillar to post. People often find that they are caught between a rock and a hard place when it comes to confronting people or coming into contact with people who suffer from mental illness. There are many people who suffer in silence from mental illness out there.

People who do not suffer from mental illness significantly or come into direct contact with it for example if a family member or close friend suffers from it often feel uncomfortable, irritated or annoyed at the behaviour of someone who does. They can’t explain, accept or tolerate that kind of behavior that is often times humiliating from the perspective of the person who is suffering from it and they find it difficult to understand and cope with that kind of knowledge.

People must be taught to appreciate another person’s point of view when it comes to the issue of mental health. When it comes to issues of mental health ignorance is not bliss. We should wise up and recognise the familiar outpourings of guilt and calls for forgiveness from sufferers as calls for help.

It is time for both sufferers and their families to stand in the gap, stand our ground, accept and work towards making new inroads and daily breakthroughs in our own lives and let sufferers of mental illness learn from their painful past and personal experience. Often experiences can be humiliating, hurtful and can bring negative images and feelings to mind to the sufferer especially if they are suffering from depression, mania, bipolar or a mood disorder.

It is time for the knowledge of personal growth, the awareness of mental health and the physical and emotional well-being of men, women and children across the spectrum to be shared and respected in support groups. People who suffer from mental illness must always be motivated to achieve happiness, longevity and productivity in their lives.

Stigmatisation is a toxic syndrome. It leads people to believe that people who suffer from mental illness are ‘crazy’, ‘nuts’, ‘psycho’ and that they are beyond any form of simple help like caring, kindness, acceptance or even tolerance for who they are as human beings.

The more people who suffer and their families speak about the trials of living daily with a mental illness the less blatant, hurtful, painful, embarrassing, humiliating and prevalent the stigma will be.

Being outspoken about the stigma will not be easy. It will come with its own drawbacks and setbacks. The people who are outspoken about mental health issues will sometimes find themselves being insulted, misunderstood, misrepresented, isolated, alienated, demotivated and rejected in certain social circles of society who see mental illness as a ‘crutch’ or as an excuse to get out of their daily responsibilities and livelihood.

The best way to seek resolutions when confronted with a situation beyond your control or dealing with someone who is mentally ill is to always remain open-minded and giving. Know your boundaries, where you draw them and the person’s limitations.

In the society that we live in today it is necessary to understand the mentally ill sufferer and their family, what all the individuals concerned go through on a daily basis and realise the difficulties that they have in forming meaningful relationships with other people in all spheres of life; across a broad, indiscriminate spectrum and background and be attuned to their response time in conversations and to personal questions about their illness, their reactions, their actions and their negative feelings. Especially the negative feelings that arise from being treated differently.

Many historical figures, famous people even celebrities have proved that they could make a positive, consistent and effective contribution to change the course of history or an entire generation despite the pitfalls of suffering from a mental illness. Here we think particularly of Winston Churchill, Abraham Lincoln, Marilyn Monroe, Sylvia Plath, Vincent Van Gogh, Anne Sexton, Ernest Hemingway and Virginia Woolf.

Although the stigma can seemingly colour your life, make your gravitate towards depression, ground you to a manic halt in your daily life, mark the essence of your soul, make the days seem dark and dismal; there are still vibrant lessons to be learned on how society still needs to adapt and adjust itself to the negativities and stigma that at times abound wildly, with no end in sight and seem to throttle humankind leaving the rest of us to clutch at straws.

© Abigail George June 2010

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